Using CarPlay is more dangerous than texting while driving, study claims

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BMW could ditch its pricey annual subscription cost for CarPlay
CarPlay: good for your infotainment system, not your reaction times.
Photo: Sony

Using Apple’s CarPlay platform in its current state is worse for drivers’ reaction times than being high on weed, at the drink-drive legal limit, or texting behind the wheel, a new study claims.

IAM RoadSmart, the biggest road U.K. safety charity, analyzed the impact of various in-car distractions. While CarPlay may make the experience of using your car’s infotainment system more enjoyable, the group’s research concludes that it certainly won’t make you a better driver.

“The fundamental issue of these systems [is that they require] you to take your eyes off the road ahead,” Neil Greig, policy and research director for IAM RoadSmart, told Cult of Mac. However, Greig said steps could be taken to make systems like CarPlay safer.

The study, published this month, put 20 CarPlay and 20 Android Auto users in a simulator. It then asked them to drive a standard route three times. This route included following another car, navigating freeway traffic, and driving a figure-eight loop. On the first occasion, they drove it without infotainment systems on board. The second time, they had to use the infotainment systems’ voice assistant (such as Siri) to carry out various tasks — things like playing music or the radio, carrying out navigation functions, sending text messages, and making phone calls. The third time, they did these same tasks using touch controls.

Study: CarPlay slows drivers’ reaction times

The simulation assessed drivers on their ability to maintain speed and hold position in lanes. It also tracked drivers’ gaze and and recorded their self-reported performance. Finally, it measured their response to other stimuli. For instance, they were asked to respond to a red bar flashed on the screen by flashing their high beams.

Apple’s CarPlay voice controls ranked below touch controls in terms of danger. Nonetheless, neither one proved optimal. (It’s really no surprise, either: Research shows that even passively listening to the radio while in the car makes you a worse driver.)

“The simulator study compares the same parameters because the research is based on a similar protocol,” Greig said. “This is why we can say they cause more distraction than looking at a smaller smartphone, for example. Glancing away from the road ahead simply raises the risk that something might happen when the driver is not paying attention. Whether this is down to the drivers assuming it is safer because it is built-in, the larger screen, or the extra number of features should be the subject of further research.”

How distractions measure up on the road
How distractions measure up on the road.
Photo: IAM RoadSmart

Improving CarPlay (and other infotainment systems)

Greig said he doesn’t believe it is likely that people will stop using systems like CarPlay altogether. However, he thinks people can alleviate some of the risks by doing certain things before setting off on a journey. That might include programming destinations and playlists.

He also thinks companies, including Apple, can do more to build safer versions of these technologies. “Changing the systems that are out there is going to be difficult, but Apple already built in some excellent safety features to their phones that can detect if they are in a moving vehicle and disable the most distracting features,” Greig said. “The warnings and options linked to these controls could be strengthened. In the long term, it’s about transparent testing of in-car human-machine interfaces to minimize distraction in the real world.”

Going forward, Greig suggested that a possible independent “star rating” system could be introduced, measuring how distracting such systems are. This could, he said, work similarly to the current star rating system for crash testing.

Provided IAM RoadSmart’s testing stands up to scrutiny, this seems like it would absolutely be worth considering. It could, after all, save lives.

Source: IAM RoadSmart (.pdf)