Talking or text-messaging on a cell phone isn’t the only way drivers risk being dangerously distracted on the road these days. Motorists who mess with MP3 music players and adaptors also run the risk of losing focus on the road.
That’s the key finding of new research that found drivers who scroll through lengthy lists of songs on an iPod or another kind of MP3 player take their eyes off the road long enough to be a road hazard.
The study, published in Human Factors: The Journal of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, found new technology auto makers have added to 9 in 10 new vehicles – so drivers can connect their MP3 players to their car stereo systems – may actually be making things worse.
iPods and other MP3 players have become increasingly common and auto makers have responded in a big way to the trend: 90 percent of new vehicles sold in the United States have MP3 connectivity, the study noted.
Lead researcher John D. Lee and colleagues said their findings indicate MP3 players increase distraction risks, depending on which devices drivers use and how long they look away from the road while searching song lists that can rise into the hundreds or even thousands.
For the study, researchers tracked the driving habits of 50 people -- age 18 to 25 years. Participants searched for specific songs in MP3 playlists of varying lengths while in a driving simulator that required them to negotiate changes in traffic patterns and construction activity. For comparison, they were also asked to tune the radio to a particular frequency while driving.
Drivers who searched through long playlists (580 songs) looked away from the road more frequently and for longer durations – posing a danger to themselves and others on the road -- than those scrolling through shorter playlists.
"New technology in the car often seems like familiar old technology, such as a radio, but is often much more likely to distract," said Lee. "A simple task of selecting a song from a list can seduce you into looking away from the road longer than you might have intended, and long looks away from the road can kill."