The influx of new car technology is typically meant to make vehicles safer, but the reality is these high-tech vehicles may be contributing to risky distracted driving.

When you’re choosing a car and the features it’s going to be equipped with; you need to be cautious about just how technologically advanced it is, and whether or not you’re going to be able to focus on the road.

The Risks of Distracted Driving

According to the NHTSA, distracted driving is pretty simple in terms of defining it. It’s any activity that takes your attention away from driving when you’re behind the wheel.

An estimated 2,500 people die annually due to distracted driving, making it a big concern for society.

There are different types of distractions.

The first is described as a manual distraction. A manual distraction means something is happening, leading you as a driver to take your hands off the steering wheel. This could mean that you’re adjusting your GPS, texting, or eating something as examples.

There are visual distractions that cause you to take your eyes off the road. Kids fighting in the backseat is an example or paying attention to an accident on the side of the road.

Cognitive distractions can be especially tricky because these occur when your mind wanders. Cognitive distractions may be more common on long road trips.

Texting is one of the top offenders when it comes to distracted driving, and it can actually lead you to be distracted in all three of the above ways. If you were to send a text which took you five seconds, going 55 MPH, it could mean you drove the distance of a football field while not watching the road.

New Technology Features and Distracted Driving

Automakers are in a race to see who can introduce the newest technology when they design vehicles, and much of the technology newer cars are equipped with are intended to improve safety.

Is that always what happens?

Increasingly research is showing that smart car technology may be contributing to distracted driving.

For example, autopilot and self-driving features are starting to be linked with an increasing number of accidents and deaths.

In Tempe, Arizona, a self-driving Uber SUV failed to detect a pedestrian crossing the street at a crosswalk leading to the death of a woman.

Most states have moved to make texting behind the wheel illegal, and sometimes voice calls as well.

Speakerphone technology lets you use your phones without taking your hands off the wheel, and some states have passed laws that say you can only use your phone in hands-free mode while you’re driving.

Even if your hands are on the wheel, that doesn’t mean your mind is on the road.

If you’re talking hands-free, you’re cognitively distracted. Research shows that if you’re in a conversation, you’re taking in the road differently than you would without that distraction, and you’re checking your mirrors less often.

One of the biggest culprits of distracted driving linked to new smart car technology is what is called infotainment systems.

These are the screens embedded on your dashboard.

This is where you can make phone calls, check your GPS, browse your music library and, in some cases, even watch movies.

While a lot of the smart car infotainment systems include voice activation, this is again, cognitively distracting.

Older Drivers and Smart Cars

Smart car technology could be even more distracting for older drivers, according to a AAA safety study.

Researchers at the University of Utah worked with the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety and found older drivers may find smart car features to be more confusing and challenging to operate than younger drivers.

In the study, researchers divided drivers into two groups.

The first group was made up of drivers who were 21 to 36 years old. The second group was drivers who were 55 to 75.

Each driver got behind the wheel of a 2018 smart car. The car was equipped with features like voice activation and navigation screens.

The drivers were asked to program music, program a navigation system, send a text, and make a phone call.

The researchers found older drivers faced higher levels of visual and cognitive demand than the younger drivers.

Both older and younger drivers found some of the smart care features confusing and time-consuming.

The study concluded that because of how demanding the use of these tech features are, it’s best for any driver of any age to only use their infotainment system for urgent tasks related to driving or for emergencies.

One of the professors who worked on the study said that modern cars are becoming as complex as planes.

Some drivers found even just the presence of the large screen was distracting to them.

Possible Solutions

As we gain more understanding about the ramifications of having so many distractions built into a car, researchers and car manufacturers are thinking of possible solutions.

Examples of some ideas that are floated around include safety features that would let a vehicle take over operations if the driver was distracted by something else, or cell phone blocking technology.

Of course, some companies also say the fully autonomous vehicle is the solution, although there is a long way to go before we can say those are safe, given incidents such as the Uber crosswalk situation.

Apple currently has 70 self-driving cars on the road in California, and companies like Cisco are working on developing a smart car and self-driving technology.

If you’re buying a new car and you want to keep yourself safe, it’s a good idea to assess what level of smart car technology is right for you. Sometimes less can be more, and rather than the most high-end infotainment system; you might want to focus more on safety features.

Distracted driving is largely preventable but can have disastrous and deadly outcomes. We can be lulled into a false sense of safety with a new car, but there are risks to be cognizant of.