AAA conducted a study that found it is more distracting to use voice-to-text messaging in your car than it is to make a call on your handheld cell phone. Different activities were tested to find out how much mental distraction each one has. Listening to music or a book on tape was “small”, talking with a passenger or someone over the phone was “medium” and texting someone verbally while driving was “large”.
You can see in car commercials that voice-based messaging is being advertised as safer than the alternative and millions of cars worldwide are being shipped with that technology… but it may create a scenario where one problem is solved while another one is created.
The technology may have its advantages but AAA’s study results are fueling Deborah Hersman’s, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), call to have any phone conversation (hands-free or not) banned while behind the wheel. Ray LaHood, Outgoing Transportation Secretary, is asking drivers to place their phones in the glove box while operating a vehicle but has not commented on systems like Sync and Entune, which accept verbal commands from drivers.
In the study AAA had drivers, most of them 20 – 39, partake in activities such as talking on a phone and listening to music. They started off by doing the tasks in a lab, then in a simulator and then finally while driving on a residential street. To find what was most distracting, their reaction times and brainwave activity were recorded with special caps they wore on their heads and measured by researchers.
When being tested on the road, the study participants drove a Subaru Outback that was decked out with a back seat researcher to record response times, computers and cameras. For tests involving a cell phone they had a phone from Samsung but a hands-free device was used instead of a voice activated system in the car.
The participants were unaware but a possible variable was controlled by the researchers. They had the drivers text manually instead of verbally. This was done so that no voice recognition software error could cause an additional distraction of corrections needing to be made by the driver.
Our state, Florida, became the 41st to ban driving with a handheld phone. So far, though, none of the states have looked at distractions from voice controls and U.S. regulators are not asking them to. The NTSB is able to give recommendations for safety changes but they do not have any regulatory power.
The department Lahood works in issued non-binding guidelines in April of this year requesting that car makers block the ability to browse the Internet or use social media sites through a vehicle’s infotainment system while the car is not parked.
Car manufacturers have also been urged to create screen-based infotainment systems so that a driver does not need to look away from the road for more than 2 seconds when making a selection, or for a total of 12 seconds when doing something like inputting an address.
AAA’s research results were released earlier this month but there was another study, with results released in April, that found texting manually on a cell phone to be just as distracting as hands-free texting. In this study conducted by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute the drivers, while on a closed course, would send texts manually and hands-free with either Siri on an Apple phone or Vlingo on an Android phone.
Whether manually or verbally, reaction times while texting were almost twice as slow when not texting and verbal texts actually took longer to complete than those that were manually typed in.
It has been said by automakers that if infotainment systems are limited then it may cause drivers to go back to using their handheld device. Whether this is true or not, AAA is asking car manufacturers and suppliers of electronics to work with the technology and assess its distractions.
Compared to how long cars have been around, voice- and touch- activated systems are new. There is a lot that can be done with them but there must be a happy medium allowing drivers to have all of the features while still being safe on the road with good reaction times.
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