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Hands-Free Car Devices Can Increase Distraction

Published on Oct 21, 2014 at 8:06 am in Distracted Driving Accident.

The American Automobile Association (AAA) is warning drivers to be wary of the new hands-free technologies that work from voice commands. Manufacturers have been marketing “hands-free systems” as desirable safety features – with the idea being they allow drivers to keep their hands on the wheel. And a survey found three out of four drivers believe that the voiced-based technology is safe. But research by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that the devices may increase distraction.

In a press release about the problem, AAA writes:

“We already know that drivers can miss stop signs, pedestrians and other cars while using voice technologies because their minds are not fully focused on the road ahead,” said Bob Darbelnet, chief executive officer of AAA. “We now understand that current shortcomings in these products, intended as safety features, may unintentionally cause greater levels of cognitive distraction.”

Study Rates Distraction from Voice-Based Technologies

In 2013, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety worked with the University of Utah, using instrumented test vehicles, heart-rate monitors and other tools used to measure driver reaction times. The team ranked common voice-activated systems based on the level of concentration required by the driver. Here are some key findings:

  • The accuracy of the voice recognition software greatly affects the level of distraction. Systems with low accuracy and low reliability caused a high level of distraction.
  • Using voice-based systems to compose text messages and emails is a more distracting task than using these systems to simply listen to messages.
  • The quality of a systems’ voice had no impact on the level of distraction. Listening to a natural or synthetic voice both rated the same.

AAA hopes the research will serve as caution for car makers. The company stresses that it is possible to design voice-based systems that are less distracting. Following the research findings, the devices can be made safer by making them less complicated to use, more accurate and generally easier to use overall.

“Siri” is Also a Distractor

The researchers also examined Apple’s Siri (version iOS 7) based on its functionality in 2013. They measured the affect on reaction times while using Siri for sending texts, accessing social media, and updating calendars. The results showed that even hands-free and eyes-free use of Siri caused drivers a high level of mental distraction. Drivers made the most mistakes when Siri failed to recognize a voice command or misunderstood the request.