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Study Finds Voice-Activated Systems Distract Drivers

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AAA Infographic showing how distracting voice-activated sytems are for drivers

AAA Infographic showing how distracting voice-activated sytems are for drivers

Three out of four drivers believe that hands-free technology is safe to use, but it is not, according to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. A new AAA study finds that voice-activated technology can increase driver distraction. “The good news for consumers is that it is possible to design hands-free technologies that are less cognitively distracting, according to the research,” AAA writes.

To conduct the study, Dr. David Strayed and researchers from the University of Utah used test vehicles, heart-rate monitors, and other equipment designed to measure drivers’ reaction times, AAA writes. As David Shepardson reports for The Detroit News, the researchers compared the actions of a driver manually changing radio stations with voice-dialing to voice-activated systems found in vehicles from six automakers.

Those systems included Toyota’s Entune system, Hyundai’s Blue Link, Chrysler’s Uconnect, Ford’s SYNC with MyFord Touch, Mercedes-Benz’s COMAND, and General Motors’s MyLink, Shepardson writes. AAA found Toyota Motor Corp.’s Entune system to be the least distracting, a 1.7 ranking, which is similar to listening to an audio book. General Motor’s Co.’s MyLink ranked last, at 3.7, Shepardson writes.

In addition, the researchers assessed version iOS 7 of Apple’s Siri, including such activities as using social media, sending text messages, and updating calendars, and found that the level of distraction for drivers using Siri was the highest of all tested, a category 4, Shepardson writes. In driver simulation tests, there were two “crashes” that occurred while using Siri, and one other when a driver used a menu-based system, he writes.

The main determiner of distraction is the length of time needed to interact with the device, Shepardson writes:

This element was driven by the verbosity of the system, the number of steps required to execute an action, and the number of comprehension errors that arose.

AAA is asking developers to redesign in-vehicle systems so that they are no more distracting than listening to the radio or an audiobook. The Foundation also plans to use the study’s findings to continue its conversation with policy makers, safety advocates, and manufacturers, AAA writes.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration plans to introduce voice-activated systems guidelines for automakers, Shepardson writes, but those will be voluntary. The National Safety Council has urged the auto industry to limit the use of infotainment systems by drivers.

In a statement published earlier this year, National Safety Council Senior Director of Transportation David Teater was quoted as saying:

‘Most auto companies prevent moving video from being seen by drivers while a vehicle is in motion. Extending this kind of limitation to drivers’ use of phones and internet would be a significant life-saving move by the industry.’


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