Many drivers think voice-activated in-vehicle systems are safe, but research shows that these systems can still cause significant and lasting distraction.
In recent years, the dangers of using a cell phone while driving have become apparent to most Seattle residents. However, many of the same people still believe that voice-activated in-car systems offer a safe alternative to cell phones. In theory, these systems reduce driver inattention by eliminating manual and visual distraction. Unfortunately, though, research increasingly indicates that these systems are still distracting and may greatly raise the risk of serious or deadly car crashes.
Last year, a study of six voice-based in-vehicle systems and two hands-free apps found that the majority caused significant driver distraction. According to Fox News, researchers observed the participants as they drove, did simulations and completed tests while using the systems. They found that both of the apps and four of the six systems created greater levels of distraction than a hands-free cellphone call.
This is especially worrisome because past research has shown that hands-free and handheld cellphones create comparable levels of distraction. According to the National Safety Council, drivers who are distracted with either type of cell phone show various handicaps. These include blindness to surrounding stimuli, delayed responses and reduced activity in the part of the brain used during driving. Presumably, voice-activated systems cause similar forms of impairment.
Another observational study conducted this year reveals that the distraction associated with in-car systems can linger. CBS News states that some participants in this study were distracted for as long as 27 seconds after using these systems. These drivers, who were only traveling at speeds of 25 mph, covered the length of three football fields before shifting their attention to the road. At higher speeds, this prolonged distraction could be even more dangerous.