Study Shows In-Car Technology Can Be Distracting, Dangerous

In-car tech that incorporates voice control interfaces so that drivers can alter the temperature, radio and sat-nav or make phone calls, without using their hands, may be counter-productive. Though this function is often marketed as a safety-feature, a new study has found that it could be distracting drivers as much, if not more, than if they were using their hands and therefore making driving even more dangerous.

In the UK and some US states, using your hands to make calls is illegal, so this study could undermine the idea that this technology is an appropriate and legal alternative to those who wish to be able to multi-task beyond the primary tasks of driving.

The study was conducted by the University of Utah along with the the American Automobile Association Foundation for Traffic Safety and based its results on tests done in the lab and on real roads. It maintains that the technology isn’t inherently distracting, but can tend to be when it doesn’t function properly. Sometimes it is simply not good enough at recognising commands and can be frustrating. The study highlights that the task that is particularly likely to be fraught with errors, let alone require too much concentration, is dictating texts and emails while driving. Even if your eyes are on the road and have both hands on the wheel, you can experience “inattention blindness”, where your mind will be on the thing you’re communicating to your car and the manner in which you’re doing it (so that it can understand it).

Since some voice control systems are better than others, the test showed that drivers are more likely to be distracted in some vehicles than others. The study looked at systems in six cars, and found that the Toyota “Entune” system was the least distracting, while General Motors’ “OnStar” was the most. Though, even if you drive a Toyota with this tech installed, the message is clear: at the moment, all such systems are to some degree a distraction. Until voice control becomes effortless and restricted to less cognitively-heavy activities, we should try and minimise our use of it.

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