Tesla Model S Infotainment Screen Among Most Distracting Of 30 New Vehicles Tested

Tesla Model S


Some systems distracted drivers for over 40 seconds.

AAA put 130 people behind the wheel of 30 new vehicles to test automaker’s infotainment systems, and the results pointed to the need for major changes in the levels of driver distraction. The agency rated 12 of the models as having a “Very High” demand on a person’s attention, and none of the tech received a “Low” grade of distraction.

AAA worked with researchers from the University of Utah to conduct the study. They used cameras and mental exercises to measure a person’s level of distraction both in terms of not watching the road and paying a lack of attention to it. The testing included having drivers use voice commands and do specific tasks through the infotainment system, like tuning the radio or making a call.

The study defined a Low level of distraction as the amount from listening to music. Very High was equal to balancing a checkbook.

According to the research, the most distracting infotainment systems can take a driver’s attention away from the road for more than 40 seconds during tasks like programming the a navigation destination. In addition, as people become more frustrated with the tech’s operation, their level of distraction increases.

“Drivers want technology that is safe and easy to use, but many of the features added to infotainment systems today have resulted in overly complex and sometimes frustrating user experiences for drivers,” said Marshall Doney, AAA’s president and CEO.

AAA is presenting these results to automakers and suppliers in an effort to improve things. Until the tech is better, the organization advocates that people avoid using infotainment functions like sending text messages or checking social media while driving on the road.

The rating for each of the evaluated models is below:

Low: N/A

Moderate: Chevrolet Equinox LT, Ford F-250 XLT, Hyundai Santa Fe Sport, Lincoln MKC Premiere, Toyota Camry SE, Toyota Corolla SE, Toyota Sienna XLE

High: Cadillac XT5 Luxury, Chevrolet Traverse LT, Ram 1500, Ford Fusion Titanium, Hyundai Sonata Base, Infiniti Q50 Premium, Jeep Compass Sport, Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited, Kia Sorento LX, Nissan Maxima SV, Toyota Rav4 XLE

Very High: Audi Q7 QPP, Chrysler 300 C, Dodge Durango GT, Ford Mustang GT, GMC Yukon SLT, Honda Civic Touring, Honda Ridgeline RTL-E, Mazda3 Touring, Nissan Armada SV, Subaru Crosstrek Premium, Tesla Model S, Volvo XC60 T5 Inscription

Source: AAA

Categories: Tesla

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59 Comments on "Tesla Model S Infotainment Screen Among Most Distracting Of 30 New Vehicles Tested"

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Eyes on screens lead to more revenue, than eyes on roads. That is the most insidiuos problem underneath the mis-guided idea touch screens were ever better, for most of a car’s functions.

time to renew with AAA.

Saves money ..I don’t like it either..A task that you can Accomplish Instantly will take 10, 20, 30 + seconds to to execute. , Because of the “BS” you gotta go through.

I find this misleading, and not just for Tesla. It sounds like they took a bunch of neophytes and stuck them in various new models they’d never experienced before. Of course you’re going to take a week or so to get used to any new system. But I’ve been in my Model S for nearly two years and over 32k miles (51k km), and it’s more second-nature than any of my previous cars. All the controls and settings that are accessible through the touchscreen menus are things you’d adjust before driving anyway; things like sport steering, music presets, Bluetooth phone link, etc. Conversely, 95% of the things you’d want to adjust while in motion can be done through the thumb wheels and buttons on the steering wheel, or voice commands (whose microphone is activated by a dedicated thumb button on the right). Arguably, one has to take their eyes off to target the defrost and seat heaters; there’s no way to do those things through the steering wheel. But since the first Model S came out, those extended climate controls have always been permanently available at the bottom of the screen (never covered up by anything), and have never moved.… Read more »


And that.


They need to retest with actual owners. And it isn’t just about learning curve, it is also about personal investment. These testers just aren’t going to be personally invested into learning this stuff.

It’s a good point because what at first takes some cogitation, later it just becomes second nature. Of course we should try to avoid distractions when driving.

If it takes you a week to get adjusted to a car, that already points to poor user experience.

There’s a learning curve to new technology. I routinely advise new Tesla owners not to drive their baby home if the purchase involves a road trip. After about a week, it isn’t that new to the owner. While I applaud the American Automobile Association for their focus on safety, they are, as stated above, sophomoric in their endeavour.

How many once-great institutions focused on the safety and betterment of society have been dumbed down to glib irrelevance?

Hand the smart phone with the best UX to somebody who has never owned a smart phone, and it will still take a week for them to get used to it. I’m certain none of their test group has owned a car with a huge center touch screen.

It is new, and new is not the same as bad.

You are correct my Tesla is WAY less distracting than my previous cars: 1. The screen is so much easier to learn in a few minutes versus hours going thru allthe buttons in other cars 2. I use the steering wheel button for voice commands to navigate, make a call or play a song or artist station on slacker- “Navigate to [store/restaurant/address]”, “Play [Fix You by] Colday” or “Call [Mom mobile]” 3. On the steering wheel buttons I can skip a song, mute/pause or adjust volume for music, and program the other scroll wheel to either adjust/toggle temperature, music source or fan speed 4a. I usually have the huge screen split with half as navigation and half as the browser set to the Tesla Waze site (teslawaze.azurewebsites.net) that someone programmed, which shows your position and icons for what is reported on the Waze app (construction, visible or hidden police, red light and speed cameras which it has a popup warning when approaching one, etc). no need to go to any other browser sites, they are slow anyway & shouldnt do that while driving 4b. As a result of voice commands to navigate or call, bluetooth and huge navigation screen and… Read more »

1. Please, stop with the ‘hours going through buttons’. It’s an outright lie to try to make your point, that in the end dissolves it.

2. Almost every car made nowadays has voice commands that are initiated from the steering wheel, as well as dedicated buttons on the steering wheel for common functions. And no, they don’t take hours to learn.

3. See item 2.

4. Most people can use a phone mounted to a vent, while it’s not the same as a huge screen in the dash, the phone can be contacted via speech commands as well. My 2011 Ford Edge allows me to activate Siri from the steering wheel.

4a. See 4

5. Seems like you’re going out of your way to justify Autopilot. I like the idea of it, and the functionality of it if it works as advertised, but saying that you are more aware because of it seems agains human behavior.

I’m no fan of touchscreen-only, I like tactile buttons for common operations.

That said, Siri is the most unreliable, distracting thing I’ve ever tried to use while driving. There’s SO much room for improvement here.

Sounds like a clip-on work-around to a design shortcoming from Ford. Good work solving a problem, though. Now why don’t you stop driving an ICE and trying to make it sound like it isn’t obsolete? Everyone here knows otherwise. Detroit makes a fine hatchback called GM Bolt EV. I think thst might suit your tastes. Ford is lagging, sadly.

You don’t drive a Tesla so how would you know.

Actually, there is validity in all Tesla4theWin’s comments (IMO) especially the Ap one.

Most people can get used to finding and operating buttons and dials in a particular car without taking their eyes off the road with time. A touchscreen? Not a hope.

Also, there is *huge* room for improvement in the voice control of my 2015 Model S. Even so, having to think about what, exactly, to say (if the recognition system’s vocab is as restricted as they usually are) is, itself, very distracting. Again, though, with practice (and less restrictive voice recognition systems) this method of control would work better than having to take one’s hand (let alone hands!) off the wheel.

-You’re going to throw a new user in the system and expect what to happen?
-Secondly, I disagree with the premise of setting destination while driving. You’d better be PARKED and setting your destination, or pull off the road and then park, and reset your destination.
-And in cars like the BMW i3, you can get an email of a new destination, and make that your destination. Again, I would not do that while driving.

” I can usually hit them by muscle memory, and I’m thinking of putting discreet textured stickers on the bezel right below each button so I can just slide my finger along the bezel and know exactly where each button is.”

This is why it’s distracting. Most cars have buttons and knobs which accomplish your work around.

Great posting.
I drive a Highlander while my wife drives MS.
When I first got into MS, it took me a while to get used to touch screen. I will say that for almost all common processes, the MS is far easier, and faster than Highlander.the buttons on the bottom and top are fixed which makes life simple.
The only processes which actually require any thought or distraction, is navigation, dealing with sun roof, and most of all turning on/off the back seat heaters. Otherwise, every common operation is much easier on MS than Highlander.

I have seen this story coming up from several sources. Despite the cost savings to manufacturers the old system was better in every way.

“According to the research, the most distracting infotainment systems can take a driver’s attention away from the road for more than 40 seconds during tasks like programming the a navigation destination.”

It really doesn’t matter that it takes 40 seconds to set a navigation destination since you better be parked at the time.

Yeah, that jumped out at me too. If you program your destination before you start driving, when the car is sitting still, then who cares how “distracting” it is?

Unfortunately my own experience in using Tesla’s cars is limited to just one ride, but what Chris Stork says fits in well with what car reviewers have said. The thing Tesla does best is integrating all the functions in the car into a whole which largely works in an intuitive manner; it’s the iPhone approach to designing a car.

This AAA study appears to be highly misleading, and sadly it appears that it will be used as ammunition by Tesla haters and trolls. 🙁

Hey, Pushmi-Pullyu mentioned my name! I feel honored. 😀

I happened to be watching this video, and what the guy said at 6:00 sums it up perfectly.


You mean people with no experience with a particular car take a while to get used to the touchscreen? Youdontsay.jpeg

If you really want good results from a study like this, then do the test after they have driven the car daily for at least a week, if not more.

Reasonable point

Though i Think im up to having driven 20 cars so far this year.

Probably spent an entire day in total pairing phones and cursing at navigation systems.

Some of this is due to bad design decisions as well. It appears the Tesla Model 3 offers rear passenger seat heaters but guess how the passengers turn them on/ adjust them?

The single user interface in the car.

Do we apply the same standard to every other car receiving marks for “very high” distraction?

Part of what is being judged is the ease of operating the car when you don’t have in-depth experience with it.

Long live the dedicated button.

Go up on Copart and see how many hundreds of newer cars are mashed in the front from running into the back of another car. When you have to look at a screen below the windshield you are not paying attention to the road. 70 mph is 100 ft a second. I scare the sh-t out of myself every time I turn the heater off or on in my Chevy Volt.

AAA (their auto insurance arm) and ALL insurance companies have ONE goal, and one goal alone. Raise rates based on anything they can theoretically dream might possibly distract their insured. AAA now has another rational to jack up Tesla owners (and likely ANY manufacturers’ car) premiums, based on dumb people that can’t find the heater button. Never mind that Tesla cars can DRIVE THEIR SELF. Nope – doesn’t matter. Go AAA, at least until your customers dump you.

Yeah, nobody driving a Tesla car should buy insurance from AAA. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen something reported which looked like AAA was intentionally skewing the evidence to make it look like Tesla cars are not as safe as they really are.

Just why AAA has apparently singled out Tesla for efforts to jack up the insurance rates, I dunno. Fortunately, AAA has plenty of competition in the field of car insurance.

Denying touch screens are more distracting than something you can operate w/o taking your eyes off the road, is like denying the sky is blue.

The two hours I spent in a Model S last year was enough to convince me that this is a manufacturer whose cars I would never consider.

Putting the touch screen at the centre of the experience is a safety disaster.

Compare to a classic well designed car like a Saab 900 — human factors properly considered, never have to take your eyes off the road to accomplish any task, amazing visibility, tactile intuitive layout properly considered. That’s what I want in a car, not technical novelty.

Also the navigation system on the Tesla screen was garbage.

Imagining button-based systems can always be operated eyes-free just because they have buttons is magical thinking of the first water.

They can’t “always” be operated eyes-free, but they require significantly less eyeball time than touchscreens, which are virtually unusable when you aren’t looking at them.

If you’re any good, you can navigate the buttons and dials of a traditional auto dashboard by touch, and your eyes never leave the road at all. Try that with a touchscreen.

Tesla is safety first unless it conflicts with sales. And boy, does that jumbotron sell cars.

You can do just about about anything you from the steering wheel or with voice commands.

No, you really can’t. Screen too bright? Scroll wheel, right? But what if it was on fan, or some other of the multi-features? Oops, looks like you’ll have to scroll through a menu, that you’ll have to read, first. That’s after you press, and hold, the scroll wheel.

Most cars have dash dimming as a dedicated scroll wheel. You reach, it’s there. Same for things like seat memory, sunroof, etc. I don’t think this is something anyone can argue about driving.

First of all, Model S screens auto-adjust the brightness, and they do it very well. I’ve never had to adjust it myself, although the option’s there.

Second of all, we’re talking about the 17″ display, but the thumbwheel menu you’re describing shows up in the binnacle, right by the speedometer. But you already knew that, didn’t you? You’re just twisting the facts to spread the FUD.

Chris, Model S adjust screen brightness on a binary basis, night or day mode. I don’t think I’m alone in finding 2 pre-sets insufficient. Besides, that was one example. They’re numerous. I’m not sure why you felt the need to claim “FUD”. I’m trying to express I’m certain I have had an easy time looking dead ahead, while operating a sunroof, temperature, fan speeds, seat memory, etc. of many cars. Zero time, with eyes off the road. I’m assuming this is how you define distraction?

We’ve been over how the scroll wheels themselves have to be setup to access a menu of different functions (how many, 4? 6?). Each time someone argues “the scroll wheels” do it all, they generally avoid describing how their need to be constantly setup and re-setup.

What I hope we see, as touch screens saturate, is a GoPro between head rests and the discreet, **practiced** operation of controls:
change the heat
fan speed
radio preset
seat memory (possibly)

Have a camera show:
1-time to complete
2-time with eyes off road
At some point, it will be before our own eyes.

“Model S adjust screen brightness on a binary basis, night or day mode.”

Simply untrue. There is a lot of argument-by-making-stuff-up in this thread.

John, Unless you can point me to something (and I’m not saying it isn’t there), I understand all one can do is select how bright they want day/night and it otherwise stays that way. When the screen goes to the night setting, it abruptly goes. There is no analog darkening, as outdoor darken. If you can prove this isn’t happening, I’d appreciate a link.

People must them I’m a Tesla basher. I’m not. I don’t like touch screens. Autopilot’s convenience, for example, more than makes up for my complaints, here (at least with Model S). But I’m not “making-stuff-up”, when relating that Tesla’s screen brightness quickly darkens to a night setting, toward the evening (hence, “binary”).

(yipes, bad proofing) “outdoors”. people must “think”…

Day/night isn’t what I’d call “brightness”, its color scheme. The screen automatically raises or lowers the intensity of the backlight (without changing the color scheme) in response to ambient light if you have it set up that way. I can see this clearly whenever I pull out of my garage.

Regarding your request for a reference, I’m not at home this week so I don’t have access to my car to find the menu item and I don’t fancy spending my time digging through the manual. However I am completely certain there is an “automatically adjust the brightness” (or similar) menu option that when enabled, produces the backlight effect I described. As I said, I see it happen virtually every time I pull out of the garage in the daytime.

John, Chris below this post mentions the manually selectable brightness. My point was it is accessed as one of the 4-6 features (depending on sunroof, etc.) that exist on one scroll wheel. It, nor anything other than nav, internet music and phone, isn’t accessible by voice command.

I’m not actually that pre-occupied with the inconvenience of brightness adjustment. It is mostly an untouched feature for me, accept when internet screens render bright (which is out of Tesla’s control?).

The greater point reads loudly in these posts. Mutli-tap, eye consuming access to cabin functions is necessary. And, frankly, it is getting worse. So, I call it out. It got worse, for instance, when Tesla “Updated” the map to cover the upper menu controls. Honestly, was that an improvement, or Tesla fixing something that wasn’t broke (to give us ~1″ added map display”)? That’s one extra tap, before the other taps can now begin to control many features. Not an improvement, IMO, but something “updates” have left behind.

Neither Chris nor I were talking about “manually selectable” brightness. As was absolutely clear, we were talking about *automatic* brightness, which requires no user intervention and works pretty well for me and, it seems, Chris. I’ve never once felt the need or desire to manually twiddle the brightness, and Chris mentions a number of other things that generally operate without need for operator intervention. As I’ve been out of town driving an older car for the last few weeks, I especially appreciate the amount of fiddly work (“distraction”) my S takes care of for me, e.g. in the last week I’ve been distracted by having to adjust windshield wipers, headlights, high beams, climate, door locks. (Of course these features aren’t unique to Tesla; everyone knows this but it’s beside the point.) I was reacting specifically to your comment “Model S adjust screen brightness on a binary basis”, which was and is simply wrong, as we’ve now beaten to death. The fact you want to change the subject doesn’t alter that. It’s OK that you were wrong, of course. Everyone is wrong in good faith sometimes. But trying to give you the benefit of the doubt and reading back further for… Read more »
I need to set the record straight on so many of your points, not because I think you don’t know, but because we both know you’re flat out lying at this point. I’m correcting you for the sake of other new readers who might take your words at face value. The Model S displays do have Night and Day mode, like you said, where the overall background changes between black to white respectively. But in either mode, there’s a brightness adjust slider (or the thumbwheel control) on a scale of 1-100 that takes it from nearly blacked out to Give Me a Sunburn. If you really did own four Teslas as you claim elsewhere, then you would know that. But it self-adjusts quite well based on ambient light, like when going through a tunnel, ever since an update in early 2016. You can see it happen. I’ve never had to touch that control. You’ve never owned a Tesla. Bjorn Nyland shows off the brightness adjust setting in his Camping Mode video, particularly when he turns the backlight all the way down til you can barely see it. Similarly, the heat and fan speed you mention are all full auto. Personally… Read more »

Your post affirms the complexity, Chris. It also paints me an apostate. Are you sure you are helping Tesla, the way you come off? I get the fanboy’ism around here, and yours shows loudly, friend.

There are things I like, no love, about my cars, and things I don’t. I’m not looking for “likes”, or exercising an agenda that I think makes what I’m saying unreasonable. For others sake, first familiarize with the interior, then test drive the car. Try its controls. See what you think. After 5 years, the “Put up with” factor shouldn’t get worse. It should get better. Like I’ve been saying (if you actually are reading my posts), Tesla’s interior choices have been deliberate and in the face of much reservation by fans of electric drive.

“If you’re any good, you can navigate the buttons and dials of a traditional auto dashboard by touch, and your eyes never leave the road at all.”

This is so utterly untrue I question whether it’s said in good faith. I certainly couldn’t do that with the fairly simple set of functions on my old Audi, and I had years to get used to it.

I suppose you could fall back on your “if you’re any good” qualifier, but only if you’re not being serious. (See also: the “no true Scotsman” fallacy.)

Now imagine how distracting the screen will be when it is the only display & interface you have: the Model 3.

“You’ll set this stuff when you are parked and before you leave”. Funny, I’ve never had to resort to that for common things in every other car I’ve owned with dedicated & labeled controls in intuitive places.

It’s amazing how many concern troll posts Tesla attracts. All that fake concern from people who apparently wouldn’t set foot inside a Tesla car if their life depended on it! 🙄

THIS IS NOT ABOUT TESLA. This is about touch screens in cars. They all have them and they all require too much attention to operate.


Too many zealots take anything that is on a Tesla and defend it fanatically. I hated the touchscreen (and touch sensitive) HVAC/seat heater controls in my Gen1 Volt and I was overjoyed when they moved them out to actual, physical buttons and knobs in the Gen2.

“concern troll”? I think 4 electrics once volunteered one his cars is a Model X. I’ve had 4 S’s. I’m speaking from experience. And you, PP? Why the defense, in the face of people who’ve already had Tesla’s products? People who know Model 3 goes one step further with something they already dislike.

Tesla will be better off when they realize people want Electric Vehicles.

It is very frustrating, that nobody seems to have heard of an invention called voice command. Especially things like navigation and phone calls don’t need fiddling around with the screen anymore. So please stop talking about distractions. First learn how to effectively use such a system then write your article.

Quoting from each an older, and facelift MS manual: “You can use voice commands to call a contact, navigate to a location, or listen to internet music.”

A streamlined version of this will be the new vehicle control interface 😀


Actually, anything that takes your concentration away is a problem, whether eyes off the road or not. Even physical buttons take time to learn where they are and exactly what they do, they are located in different places in every vehicle (ever driven a car where the blinker stalk is on the wrong side? Really takes time to get used to that). I doubt I’m much different to anyone else in this world, and I know sometimes when I’m feeling for that button or knob my attention is definitely not on the road, it is on the task of feeling for the button or knob. And voice command is just the same, your concentration is on listening to the responses and making your selections. And if it goes wrong, then more of your concentration is going to figuring out where you are now at with the voice command system, plus getting frustrated as it misunderstands what you are saying. Unfortunately, this is harder to test, but I’m confident if concentration test was made with each of these systems the results would shock you. Humans are good at concentrating on one thing at a time. It doesn’t make a whole lot… Read more »

Oh, and how many can honestly say this has never happened to them “I just drove here and I can’t remember anything about the trip”. Eyes on the road the whole time, but you’re in auto pilot mode, but you got there safe and your concentration was on something else the entire time.
Scary driving cars, isn’t it?

I do have to question this study. Because the infotainment in a Equinox “Mylink” (rated moderate) is not very different than the one in the Yukon “Intellilink” (rated very high). It’s largely the same system with different brand skins.