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Why older drivers should be cautious about new auto tech features

If you're an older driver who's been in a crash, you may be shopping for a new car that has safety features your previous one didn't. If your car was more than a few years old, you'll be surprised and impressed by all of the bells and whistles that are standard on vehicles now -- and maybe more than a little intimidated by them.

You're not alone. In fact, some of these new features that are meant to keep drivers' hands on the wheel can end up taking their eyes and attention off the road for a dangerously long period.

A study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that drivers who were between 55 and 75 years old took over eight seconds longer than those between 21 and 36 to perform tasks on the car's infotainment system in 2018 model year vehicles. It took older drivers an average of over 22 seconds to initiate a call, over 25 seconds to select their entertainment, over 33 seconds to send a text and over 40 seconds to enter their route in the navigation system.

Of course, no matter how quickly a person performs these tasks, if they do so while driving, they're putting themselves and others in danger. According to AAA, you double your chances of being involved in a crash if your eyes leave the road for two seconds.

According to an official with the foundation, the fault lies with the systems -- not the drivers. He says, "Voice-command functions found in new in-vehicle technology are intended to help drivers by keeping their eyes and attention on the road. Unfortunately, the complexity and poor design of some of these systems could cause more harm for older drivers, in particular, instead of helping them."

Another AAA official said, "This is a design problem, not an age problem." He noted, nonetheless, that with 20% of drivers expected to be over 65 by 2030, automakers need to design systems that are easier to use.

In the meantime, all drivers can stay safer by setting their channels and navigation before they start driving. It's also wise to practice using touch screens and voice commands while you're not driving so that if you need to use the phone or other part of the system in an emergency, such as if you're involved in a crash, you can more easily do so.

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