An increasing number of cars come with hands-free technologies, such as Siri, touting them as a safe way to interact with smartphones and infotainment systems while driving in traffic. The reality is that those systems might be downright dangerous, at least that’s the conclusion of a recent study. AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety financed the study conducted by David Strayer, a psychology professor at the University of Utah. Strayer stated that anything in a car that takes the driver’s attention from the task of safely piloting the vehicle is dangerous, which includes systems that can be controlled by voice commands.
Researchers observed drivers both in real-world scenarios and in an advanced simulator. Numerous sensors were strapped to the subjects and were positioned in the cars, measuring the level of distraction as different activities were conducted in different scenarios.
Interestingly enough, Apple’s Siri was named as the number one most distracting thing that was tested. The most distracting thing drivers could do with Siri was update social media, send text messages, access the calendar, or use navigation. That was the case even though Siri can be used without touching anything or even looking at the smartphone’s screen. A similar study funded by AAA cited the Chevrolet MyLink system as the most distracting system on the market, followed closely by the COMMAND system from Mercedes. That same study also concluded that the least distracting voice command system was Entune from Toyota, stating that using Entune was about as distracting as listening to an audio book while driving.
In the end, Strayer says that as a result of his work he has a message for automakers. He does not believe that voice command systems are inherently bad, but he does think they could be designed to be much less distracting. Simplifying the systems and working on improving accuracy when it comes to recognizing voice commands would help significantly. It seems likely that most drivers would agree with Strayer, because nobody likes to repeat what they’ve said over and over.