Using a car's Apple CarPlay or Android Auto system while behind the wheel can impair a driver's reaction time more than alcohol and cannabis use, or texting while driving, new research out of the UK has found.
In fact, drivers using these systems were found to take their eyes off the road for up to 16 seconds, while the time they took to react to an stimulus on the road ahead was slowed by up to 50 per cent.
The recent simulator study was conducted by independent UK road safety charity IAM RoadSmart on behalf of the UK's Transport Research Laboratory (TRL), the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) and the Rees Jeffreys Road Fund.
It found the impact on reaction time when using these systems' touch-screen controls over voice control was found to be worse than the reaction time recorded when texting while driving – resulting in an increased stopping distance of up to five car lengths at freeway speeds.
Reaction time slowed by up to 57 per cent using Apple CarPlay via touch screen – compared with the 12 per cent increase in reaction time registered when a driver had consumed alcohol to the legal blood-alcohol limit.
The research also indicated that reaction times were made even slower when drivers were selecting music through Spotify while using Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.
Additionally, a driver's ability to maintain a consistent speed, a safe distance from the vehicle in-front and a car's lane position also suffered.
Drivers using navigation through Apple CarPlay were found to deviate from their position by 0.50 metres, while those using Android Auto navigation deviated by 0.53m.
"Participants showed a significant reduction in their average speeds when completing the music and navigation tasks using the touch feature in both infotainment systems," researchers wrote in the report.
"This reduction in speed is a clear indication that drivers were responding to an increase in mental demand... However, this compensatory reduction in speed was not enough to maintain their driving performance.
"Despite reducing speed, participants were unable to maintain a consistent gap to the vehicle in front and unable to maintain their lane position to the same standard as their control drive."
Oscar Oviedo-Trespalacios, a research fellow at the Centre for Accident Research and Road Safety in Queensland, told CarAdvice this phenomenon can be seen across the board, including in Australia.
According to Mr Oviedo-Trespalacios, who has published a paper on the effects of in-vehicle information systems (IVIS) on driver attention, "drivers across the country report finding [IVIS] terribly distracting" but continue to use the systems as they believe it's safe to do so.
"Drivers think if the car manufacturer put it in, that it’s an endorsement of its safety," he said.
Mr Oviedo-Trespalacios said the 16-second distractions recorded in the UK study were a cause for major concern, given most research indicates drivers should not take their eyes off the road for more than two seconds at a time.
"After the two seconds, for every additional second, your likelihood of crashing increases four times – exponentially," he said.
Mr Oviedo-Trespalacios called for greater education around the safe use of these devices in cars and urged manufacturers to install in-built safe-guards in the systems.
"There’s an easy fix: If the car is moving, lock it down," he argued.