Apple CarPlay Can Be Worse For Your Reaction Time Than Driving Under The Influence: Study

Illustration for article titled Apple CarPlay Can Be Worse For Your Reaction Time Than Driving Under The Influence: Study
Photo: BMW

In a new study from IAM RoadSmart, a UK driving safety charity, it’s being claimed that driving while sloshed is, by at least some measures, “safer” than driving while using a touchscreen Apple CarPlay or Android Auto system.

Illustration for article titled Apple CarPlay Can Be Worse For Your Reaction Time Than Driving Under The Influence: Study
Graphic: IAM Roadsmart (Transport Research Laboratory)

IAM Roadsmart had drivers run through a simulated test course with following distance, stop-and-go highway traffic, and a figure-eight driving loop as the driving tasks, using this incredibly rad sim rig setup.

In the first run, test subjects drove with no phone-related tasks. In run two they used voice control, and in the final run, they used the touchscreen. Driving at the legal limit of .08 BAC resulted in a 12 percent increase in reaction times in previous studies, whereas using a touch device to control a phone resulted in over a 50 percent increase in reaction times. Directly from the test authors:

Controlling the vehicle’s position in the lane and keeping a consistent speed and headway to the vehicle in front suffered significantly when interacting with either Android Auto or Apple CarPlay, particularly when using touch control.

Even just driving straight proved to be a challenge while using a touchscreen. The study even attempted to remove the initial confusion from new-system-familiarization by only having regular Android users use Android Auto, and only having iPhone users drive with Apple CarPlay. Even with this familiarity, drivers performed spectacularly poorly. At least some road attentiveness was regained by relying solely on voice controls, instead of touchscreens:

In general, driving performance was more negatively impacted when using touch control to interact with the systems compared with voice control. Participants were able to keep their eyes on the road more when using voice control than touch control, and were more likely to identify stimuli that required attention.


But most participants in the study reported using touchscreens rather than voice controls in real-world driving, which indicates that the worst-case scenarios are already likely in play on the roads.

Overall, this probably reinforces something we all suspected, but it shows that automakers need to take major strides in making car tech integration safer for everyone. Read the full report, complete with plenty of data visualizations, here.

Collectrix of Vintage Hondas and High Priestess of the Church of Slam It On Wats. Freelancer at Jalopnik. she/her


Half-track El Camino

This headline seems pretty clickbaity, since there’s nothing here that says this problem is exclusive to Apple CarPlay rather than touchscreens in general. Why pick on Apple specifically, rather than use this as another rallying cry to bring dedicated, physical controls back to cars’ center consoles?

The other big point that I think is lost in this analysis is that the degraded driving performance from using a touchscreen is only an issue for the few moments when the driver is using it. If you’re driving with your BAC at the legal limit (note: not “sloshed,” like you led off with in the first paragraph) you are impaired the whole time you are driving.

I also have a bit of a tough time believing that one is more distracted futzing with Spotify on the big center console screen up near the windshield rather than typing a text message on a tiny screen down in your lap (where most drivers seem to do their texting, DON’T THINK WE CAN’T TELL) although I’d need to read the study and look at their methods to be sure how strongly I want to hold to that position.