Hands-free technology is supposed to make driving safer — three out of four drivers believe hands-free technology is safe to use — but Apple’s Siri and various in-car systems could ultimately drive you toward a fender bender.
That’s according to a new research from the AAA Foundation for Safety Traffic that shows how distracting these technologies really are.
This research isn’t opinion-based. University of Utah psychology professor David Strayer and researchers from the University of Utah used instrumented test vehicles, heart-rate monitors and other equipment designed to measure reaction times of drivers using hands-free technologies. Researchers ranked common voice-activated interactions based on the level of cognitive distraction they caused.
“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,” said Strayer. “The primary task should be driving. Things that take your attention away make you a poor driver and make the roads less safe.”
Is Driving With Siri Dangerous?
How distracting are Siri and in-car technologies that help us stay connected on the run without using our hands? As it turns out, voice recognition software’s accuracy “significantly influences” the distraction rate. What’s more, composing text messages and e-mails using in-vehicle technologies was more distracting than using these systems to listen to messages, and listening to a natural or synthetic voice is equally as distracting to drivers.
“We already know that drivers can miss stop signs, pedestrians and other cars while using voice technologies because their minds are not fully focused on the road ahead,” said Bob Darbelnet, CEO of AAA. “We now understand that current shortcomings in these products, intended as safety features, may unintentionally cause greater levels of cognitive distraction.”
The study spent a lot of time with Apple’s Siri on iOS 7. Researchers measured a range of tasks, such as using social media, sending texts and updating calendars. The results: hands- and eyes-free use of Apple’s Siri generated a relatively high level of mental distraction.
“Some of the most advanced technology, such as Siri, can lead to high levels of distraction when you’re trying to drive,” said Strayer. “When these systems become more complex, like sending text messages or posting to Facebook, it pushes the workloads to pretty high levels and may be dangerous while driving.”
Making In-Car Tech Safer
Greg Sterling, Vice President of Strategy & Insights at the Local Search Association, told us the research essentially shows that the current systems are not up to the standard they need to be to promote safe driving.
“However, mobile phone use in cars is here to stay. We’re never going to turn back the clock to a time when driving existed without these devices. It is therefore incumbent upon Apple, Google and the other makers of the systems to do a better job with accuracy and reliability in order to avoid distracted driving,” he said. “That will ultimately happen.”
Indeed, AAA’s motive is not to do away with the technologies but to spur developers to improve product safety by making them less complicated, more accurate and generally easier to use. At the same time, AAA is encouraging consumers to cut back cognitive distraction by limiting the use of most voice-based technologies while driving.
“It is clear that not all voice systems are created equal, and today’s imperfect systems can lead to driver distraction,” continued Darbelnet. “AAA is confident that it will be possible to make safer systems in the future.”