Hands-free voice-activated technology allowing you to make calls from the road through your car’s onboard system or your connected phone has been heralded as a driving safety feature. Auto manufacturers claim that instead of fumbling with your phone at the wheel, that voice-activated systems are safer.
To the contrary, new research shows that talking to your car or fiddling with your phone-even to make voice-activated calls while driving,can be a dangerous – or even deadly – distraction.
A recent University of Utah study found that voice-activated calling technology can take a driver’s eyes off the road for anywhere from 15 to nearly 30 seconds, for such things as having to talk to the car’s system to disengage the call and how many commands or buttons need to be used. Add to that the time and fumbling to initially activate a call.
The study also found that voice-activated systems from Microsoft, Apple and Google all cause the same problems.
You also may be shocked to learn from David Strayer, PhD, a neuroscientist and the study’s lead scientist, that the time and lingering distraction to reorient to the road after making a call using voice activation — including road conditions, what speed you’re going, figuring out your proximity to other vehicles on the road — requires the same brain focus as “balancing a check book while driving’.
Strayer’s research underscores that using multi-tasking technology across different in-vehicle activities and the time and attention they take while driving is causing an increasingly serious risk to drivers. The results of surveys conducted in recent years by nonprofit research group the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety – which funded this current study – have already proven that texting while driving is deadly dangerous. Now its chief executive, Peter Kissinger, says the mental distraction and lasting effects of onboard technologies also “pose a hidden and pervasive danger”.
The study tested 2015 car models with 257 drivers aged 21 to 70, plus 65 drivers testing Microsoft, Google and Apple phone systems. Not surprisingly, the potential challenges posed were greatly higher for drivers over 50.
Is the danger and risk the same across different vehicles and models? This current research found that not to be the case.
From study drivers testing more than 10 different voice-activation systems, Dr. Strayer says results show the Mazda 6 to have the most highly distracting systems, closely followed by Microsoft’s Cortana system, then models from Volkswagen, Chrysler, Nissan and Hyundai. The study also found that Apple’s Siri system caused “high distraction”. While the Buick LaCrosse and Chevrolet Equinox created “moderate distraction”.
“Whenever there is a distraction on the part of a driver, even momentarily,” Jay W. Dankner, partner in the auto accident firm Dankner Milstein, PC, said, “ the chance of a crash or other untoward incident increases exponentially. Not only is the action and perception time of the driver imperiled and impaired, but the ability to react to the actions of other drivers also increases.
“The bottom line,” he added, “is that these devices or features be it your phone, navigation system or other new “technologies” in cars, even when activated by voice, should be used sparingly, at best, and only under conditions that render their use safe. The best advice? Pull over and do your “instructing” and talking from the side of the road – in a stopped positon. Safety advocates are concerned by the auto manufacturers’ potentially false advertising claims that voice-activation technology is a safety feature. Instead, they feel these features are profitable add-ons that disregard safety and – as the University of Utah’s study shows – actually increase the risk from talking and driving.”
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