Voice Commands Offer No Solution To Distracted Driving

Michigan has a ban on texting while driving, but many drivers try to be even more conscientious about distracted driving than the law requires. Because some states are beginning to ban the use of handheld cellphones and other devices while driving, automakers and mobile device manufacturers are trying to find new ways for drivers to use their devices while keeping eyes on the road and hands on the wheel.

For automakers, this comes in the form of "infotainment" systems. They can generally be operated via a touch screen on the dashboard or through voice commands. Many mobile device manufacturers also give users the choice to operate with voice command. Increasingly, cellphones can even wirelessly connect to the automobile's infotainment system for a fully integrated experience.

But are these voice-activated technologies actually reducing driver distraction? The answer, sadly, is no. According to two recently published studies, using voice-activated technology can be more distracting than just talking on a handheld cellphone.

One of the studies had test participants use various voice-activated systems while in a driving simulator or a real car. The systems were then rated on a distraction scale of 1 to 5. To the dismay of some die-hard Apple fans, the iPhone's "Siri" had the worst rating with a score of 4.14 out of 5. The systems that were considered the most distracting were ones that had a very difficult time recognizing and following voice commands.

Infotainment systems and voice-activation technology are two "bells and whistles" features that will certainly help sell cars. But at least for now, they will not make driving any safer. In fact, they could increase the risk of a car accident.

Source: The Star Tribune, "Drivers can be distracted by voice-activated smartphones, dashboard infotainment systems," Joan Lowy, Oct. 8, 2014

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