The gist of a report from the American Automobile Association on the growing use of devices that allow drivers barreling down the interstate to use voice commands to do everything from turn up the AC to draft the Great American Business Memo?
Stop doing it, period. Right now, exclamation mark.
“Automakers have been trying to excite new-car buyers, especially younger ones, with dashboard infotainment systems that let drivers use voice commands do things like turning on windshield wipers, posting Facebook messages or ordering pizza,” the Associate Press’ Joan Lowy writes. “The pitch has been that hands-free devices are safer because they enable drivers to keep their hands on the wheel and their eyes on the road.”
But the AAA study puts the kibosh on those safety claims.
“There is a looming public safety crisis ahead with the future proliferation of these in-vehicle technologies,” AAA President and CEO Robert L. Darbelnet says in a statement accompanying the release of the report titled “Measuring Cognitive Distraction in the Automobile.” “It’s time to consider limiting new and potentially dangerous mental distractions built into cars, particularly with the common public misperception that hands-free means risk-free.”
University of Utah psychologist and cognitive distraction expert David Strayer and his team “measured brainwaves, eye movement and other metrics to assess what happens to drivers’ mental workload when they attempt to do multiple things at once,” the Daily Mailreveals.
The team also developed a 1-5 rating scale of driver distractions that shows that activities such as “talking on a hands-free cell phone or interacting with a speech-to-text email system place a high cognitive burden on drivers, thereby reducing the available mental resources that can be dedicated to driving.”
The AAA has rolled the results of Strayer’s work into a 90-second video about Cognitive Distractions that compares the condition to “having tunnel vision behind the wheel.” The bottom line is that “you’re not necessarily safer just because your eyes are on the road and your hands on the wheel if your brain isn’t geared on driving.”
Robert Gearty, reporting for the [North Jersey] Record, spoke to one 55-year-old driver who told him that the findings didn’t surprise him and he “could understand how someone might get distracted as they tried to compose an e-mail to the boss using a voice-activated system…”
“You’re thinking about what you’re doing and you become hypnotized to what you’re sending out,” says Sal Aliano. “I can see that.”
“We are extremely concerned that it could send a misleading message since it suggests that hand-held and hands-free devices are equally risky. The AAA study focuses only on the cognitive aspects of using a device, and ignores the visual and manual aspects of hand-held versus integrated hands-free systems,” says spokesman Wade Newton. “There are many other academic studies under way, and road safety will be enhanced by letting the complete body of research drive policy recommendations.”
Meanwhile, over at the World Wide Developer’s Conference, Eddy Cue, Apple’s head of the company’s internet software and services, revealed that 12 car manufacturers have come on board since the company announced Siri Eyes Free at last year’s gathering of geeks, according to the San Jose Mercury News, and improvements will be forthcoming in iOS 7.
“Siri’s capabilities have received a serious overhaul and now the voice-activated, talkative virtual assistant can make web searches and access information via Bing or Wikipedia, read back tweets, and control elements such as screen brightness and volume,” the story reports.
Siri is already taking commands and jibber-jabbering back in some Chevrolet, Honda, Acura, BMW and Mercedes-Benz vehicles while Nissan, Infinity, Kia, Hyundai, Volvo, Opel, Jaguar Land Rover and Ferrari have “pledged their support,” we are told.
The AAA-sponsored findings expand and reinforce the results of a study released by the Texas Transportation Institute at Texas A&M University in April that compared voice-to-text and traditional texting on a handheld device in an actual driving environment. It found that “driver response times [were] significantly delayed no matter which method was used,” Reuters’ Jim Forsyth reported at the time.
“In each case, drivers took about twice as long to react as they did when they weren’t texting,” Christine Yager, who headed the study, told Reuters. “Eye contact to the roadway also decreased, no matter which texting method was used.”
In March, Chevrolet rolled out a commercial touting “the button to end all buttons” and Siri’s full integration into its Sonic models.
Well, it sure sounded like a great idea.