AAA Study: Hands-Free Tech Is Not Always Risk-Free

Oct 8, 2014

“Not all voice activated systems are created equally,” according to Bevi Powell, AAA’s East Central Senior Vice president.

A study conducted by AAA finds three out four drivers believe their hands-free technology is OK to use while driving, however many systems are actually more of a distraction than they think.

“The problem is when you’re distracted mentally, or you’re cognitively distracted then you’re taking your mind off of what you should be concentrating on and that is operating your vehicle safely,” said Powell.  

When AAA studied the reaction times of drivers using voice-activated systems to make phone calls or change the radio station, it found drivers had slower reaction times. Powell indicated, “Hand free is not always risk free” due to the different types and levels of distraction, Powell said.

There are physical, visual, and cognitive distractions. Cognitive distractions simply are mental distractions that remove driver’s attention from the road and direct their focus on something else.

“When you’re thinking about something else you may run a stop sign, you may not react to something that runs out in front of your car, such as a deer. You may not react quite as quickly when distracted,” said Powell.

The study compared systems, six different vehicles, along with Apple’s Siri. The research uncovered that there is a lower amount of cognitive distraction when the system is more accurate and utilizes short, concise commands. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety believes these findings provide clues on how to design less cognitively distracting features. The Foundation is calling for developers to address key contributing factors.

To place the study’s results a usable matrix, levels of distractions were assigned on a scale of one to five, one being very little distraction five being the most distracting. The systems and vehicles landed across the spectrum.

“What they found on the six systems that were compared was Toyota scored a 1.7, and the Mercedes command scored a 3.1,” said Powell.

For Powell,  the major takeaways from the study are that mental distractions are real, and voice activation systems are not perfect.

“In an ideal situation they would have both hands on the steering wheel, and their eyes on the road looking for any possible hazards,” said Powell.