Voice Commands Are More Distracting than Speaking on the Phone, According to Study

About two decades ago, people were discovering the dangers of using cell phones while driving, but luckily an antidote was quickly discovered: the hands-free systems.
Voice command button 1 photo
Photo: Florin Profir
However, later studies showed that the problem of driving and speaking on the phone at the same time did not lie with the fact that it prevented the driver from using one of their hands. Instead, it had more to do with the phone conversation distracting their attention, proving once again that while people can indeed multitask, their efficiency at all of those tasks is penalized.

Jake Nelson, director of traffic safety advocacy and research, reinstated this idea. “Hands-free isn’t risk-free. That’s been our message for years,” he says.

In a study conducted by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety and released today, it’s shown that drivers can remain distracted for up to 27 seconds after using the voice command features of their in-car infotainment system of their phones.

The researchers studied the voice-activated systems of ten 2015 model year vehicles on 257 drivers, as well as three smartphone systems on a smaller sample of 65 drivers. In all cases, these systems were showed to increase mental distractions that could still be felt seconds after the actual commands were given.

If you think about it, it makes perfect sense

The human brain can’t completely switch from one task to another in the blink of an eye, so it’s natural for some residues to still linger for a few more seconds.

The vehicle with the best result out of the ten tested was the Chevrolet Equinox, while the one with the worst results was the Mazda6.

To chart their findings, researchers used a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the most mentally distracting and 1 the least. To get an idea, 1 equals to listening to the radio at a decent level while 5 is the equivalent of taking a challenging test while driving. Anything above or equal to level 2 - which is the same as talking on the phone - is considered potentially dangerous by AAA.

To make matters clear, all of the ten vehicles tested had ratings above 2, with the Equinox managing the lowest - 2.4. The Mazda6 was the only one to go over 4, with a score of 4.6. And if you think the distractions would decrease once the users got used to the systems, you’re absolutely right, but the gain wouldn’t make much of a difference.

By becoming distracted, the drivers were more likely to lose track of things around them even though they were keeping their hands on the wheels and eyes on the road at all times.

Basically, what this study brought forward by AutoNews shows is that using voice commands while driving is at least just as dangerous as speaking on the phone via a hands-free system. Of course, it’s less dangerous than manually scrolling through your contacts, so please keep using voice commands until a safer option is found if you really must call somebody.
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About the author: Vlad Mitrache
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"Boy meets car, boy loves car, boy gets journalism degree and starts job writing and editing at a car magazine" - 5/5. (Vlad Mitrache if he was a movie)
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