Car dealers should be forced to familiarise buyers with their new in-car infotainment systems, a safety charity has said. IAM Roadsmart says the government and vehicle manufacturers should “enforce greater education” among drivers before they leave the dealer forecourt, ensuring they know their way around ever more complex technology.

The organisation says in-car advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) can improve safety, as long as they are used correctly. And the charity says its research shows smartphone integration systems such as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto can “significantly affect” reaction times and stopping distances.

In fact, IAM Roadsmart points to results showing these systems, which are designed to make infotainment functions more intuitive, can actually impair drivers’ reaction times more dramatically than alcohol and cannabis use. According to the study published earlier this year, being at the drink-drive limit will slow a driver’s reaction times by 12 percent, but using Apple CarPlay through the vehicle’s touchscreen can increase reaction times by as much as 57 percent.

As a result, the study found stopping distances, lane control and response to external stimuli were all negatively affected by the use of Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. And use of the systems slowed drivers’ reaction times more than twice as much as cannabis use.

The IAM’s calls come as dealers begin delivering vehicles bearing the new ‘70-plate’ registration marks. Available from September 1, the ‘70’ plates will stay with us until March 1, 2021, when they will be replaced with the ‘21’ plates.

Van driver using hands-free phone while driving

“Now is the perfect opportunity to highlight the importance of correctly using the latest in-car technology with the arrival of the new registration plate,” said Neil Greig, IAM RoadSmart’s director of policy and research. “Swiping a screen is replacing the turn of a button or dial so it is vital that car dealers educate motorists on how to correctly use these new systems, so that they are a safety benefit and not a potentially dangerous distraction.

“Driver distraction is estimated to be a factor in around a third of all road collisions in Europe each year. As the amount of in-car infotainment and ADAS continues to increase, we believe car dealers have a responsibility to correctly educate their customers and ensure they are familiar with all the high-tech systems in their shiny new purchase before they leave the forecourt. It is also imperative that the government and the vehicle manufacturers enforce and support this.

Alpine iLX-107 Apple CarPlay Receiver

“We’re calling on industry and government to openly test and approve such systems and develop consistent standards that genuinely help minimise driver distraction. Whether you’re buying a new car now or already own a vehicle with technology that is new to you, it is vital that you use it safely. Anything that distracts a driver’s eye or mind from the road is bad news for road safety.”