In-Car, Hands-Free Technology Can Cause Distracted Driving
Two new studies show that hands-free technology, as well as built-in technology in many modern cars, can cause distracted driving.
A study conducted by AAA and the University of Utah, which looked at hands-free and voice-activated controls, found that even those devices can cause distracted driving, which increases the risk of a car accident. Many distracted driving laws allow drivers to use blue tooth headsets or speaker phones to make phone calls, and many vehicles have systems that can link to your phone so you can use an in-car program to make phone calls to friends or restaurants.
A companion study also investigated voice-activated smart phone features, particularly Apple’s popular Siri, and found that those programs can also lead to distracted driving issues. In fact, two participants in the study caused virtual crashes while dealing with Siri in a driving simulator.
“Common voice tasks are generally more demanding than natural conversations, listening to the radio, or listening to a book on tape,” the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety researchers wrote.
“We already know that drivers can miss stop signs, pedestrians and other cars while using voice technologies,” said Bob Darbelnet, chief executive of AAA. “We now understand that current shortcomings in these products, intended as safety features, may unintentionally cause greater levels of cognitive distraction.”
“In the situations where you have a system that’s very difficult to use, is extremely frustrating to use, then, yes, you’ll be paying attention to that and not paying attention to traffic lights and pedestrians and other cars,” David Strayer of the University of Utah explained. In his study, a driver requested the name of a restaurant on Siri, but because voice-prompt technology is new and flawed, Siri’s response was, “Sorry, I didn’t get that. Please select a restaurant.” The driver, in her frustration, missed a prompt that measured her attention to the road.
Both studies measured “cognitive distraction,” or the mental workload caused by dealing with multitasking. Many previous distracted driving studies examined visual distraction, such as texting and driving or GPS navigation, in which the driver took his or her eyes off the road.
“The primary task should be driving. Things that take your attention away make you a poor driver,” Strayer said. “Even though your car may be configured to support social media, texting and phone calls, it doesn’t mean it is safe to do so.”
Although Toyota scored one of the best vehicles to prevent cognitive distraction while driving, a spokesman said that neither study conclusively showed a link between distracted driving and hands-free or voice-activated systems.
“The results actually tell us very little about the relative benefits of in-vehicle versus hand-held systems; or about the relationship between cognitive load and crash risks,” said Mike Michels on behalf of Toyota.
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