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Maureen May
Maureen May
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Does Hands-Free Mean Safer? Voice Activated Devices May Increase Driver Distraction

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Many drivers are choosing (some in compliance with the laws of the city or state in which they live) to put hands-free technology in their vehicles because they think they are increasing their own safety, as well as the safety of their passengers and other motorists. But according to a 2014 study conducted by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, the use of voice-activated systems in vehicles may actually be a major distraction for many drivers.

The studies examined various voice-activated systems from common automobile makers as well as the voice system found on smartphones capable of activities such as navigating, texting, posting to social media sites, and checking a calendar, all without touching or even looking at the device.

The Results

It turns out that the Apple Siri system is not a safe alternative to texting and driving after all. Two drivers using the smartphone voice system rear-ended other vehicles in the driving simulator segment of the testing, earning smartphones the worst rating for distraction. The researchers found that the most distracting systems made errors, even when given clear and distinct commands from drivers, increasing frustration levels and the degree of cognitive functions required to use the devices, taking mental energy away from the task of driving.

But the news wasn’t all bad. The study found that some car maker voice-activation solutions, including Toyota’s Entune and Hyundai’s Blue Link system, are proving to be less distracting than those offered by competitors. The Toyota system proved to be equally distracting as listening to a book on tape, but the systems

Despite the dangers that voice activated systems present to motorists and other drivers, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has thus far only issued voluntary guidelines for automakers to follow when they install these systems in consumers’ vehicles.