Hands-free Tech Still a Serious Driving Distraction, Study Finds

by Matt Klassen on October 10, 2014

For several years now hands-free technology has been touted as a safe alternative to the driving distractions inherent in our mobile devices and other such things we often employ while driving, but according to two studies conducted jointly by the University of Utah and the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, hands-free technology presents its own significant distractions, and may, in fact, endanger your life.

Led by cognitive distraction expert David Strayer, the researches used relatively early model vehicles (2012-2013) equipped with in-vehicle infotainment and voice-recognition technologies, and measured the level of distraction they imposed upon drivers through measuring brainwaves, heart rates, eye movement, field of vision, and overall mental workload.

In short, while the studies found that doing anything while driving, including changing the radio station or voice-activated phone calls, were significant distractions, it was still nothing in comparison to the distraction that using Siri on an iPhone to send and receive texts, post to Facebook and Twitter, and access a calendar, even when modified for hands-free use was found to have. Proof that our phones may indeed one day kill us.

As TechNewsWorld writer Richard Adhikari helpfully summarizes, “On a scale the researchers developed to rate the levels of mental distraction, tasks such as listening to the car radio fell into category 1, a minimal risk of distraction. Talking on a cellphone, whether hands-free or not, placed in category 2, moderate risk. Listening and responding to in-vehicle, voice-activated email features were category 3, extensive risk.”

However, before we harp on Apple and its Siri voice assistant for being dangerous driving distractions, the research team was quick to point out that the only reason iPhones were employed was that when the studies started the iPhone was the most prevalent device connected to in-vehicle communication systems.

Android systems weren’t tested, “because Android wasn’t as fully implemented as iOS when we began the research,” said Joel Cooper, assistant professor of psychology at Utah U and a member of Strayer’s team. “Some of the findings would apply across the board, and the results shouldn’t be interpreted as a critique of Siri.”

But before we think that hands-free technology is worse than holding your smartphone and looking at it while driving, some analysts are pointing out that anything done in a vehicle has some level of distraction in it, it’s just a matter of how much distraction. “These studies are misguided, largely because they operate in a vacuum,” said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.

“People are going to talk to others in their car, and finding a station on a manual radio or pulling out a map and trying to figure out where you’re going is likely more distracting than what they’re worried about,” he told TechNewsWorld.

But in the end, if you think using hands-free voice-activated technology removes the distraction burden from you while you’re driving you’re fooling yourself, there’s simply no two ways about it. If the goal of reducing distracted driving is to actually reduce distractions, then the preponderance of voice-activated mobile technology is certainly not helping things…although talking to your passengers isn’t either, so keep that in mind.

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Written by: Matt Klassen. www.digitcom.ca. Follow TheTelecomBlog.com by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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