Hands-free Technology Not Without Risks

By on October 8, 2014

To address the growing number of accidents caused by texting and driving, more and more automotive companies have included hands-free, voice activated communication tools in their latest models to discourage drivers from unsafely reaching for their iPhones.

However, according to a new study conducted by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety and the University of Utah, these new technologies may not be as effective as people might assume.

The technologies allow drivers to do everything from send a text message to tune their radio station without taking their hands from the steering wheel.

The systems, however, can be complex and prone to errors. Navigating through the systems — according to the study — can cause drivers to be as distracted and susceptible to accidents as they would be taking their eyes from the road to briefly look at their phone.

Researchers tested everything from smart phone voice command apps — like Apple’s Siri program — to the systems built into cars from some of the world’s biggest auto manufacturers — including Chevrolet, Chrysler, Ford, Hyundai and Mercedes. Close to 200 student volunteers tested the systems in a lab setting, a driving simulator and on the road.

The programs received a final distraction score between one and 5, with one representing the least amount of distraction and 5 representing the most.

Among the smart phone technologies, Siri received the worst rating with a 4.14 rating. Among the car programs, Chevrolet’s MyLink ranked the lowest, with a rating of 3.7.

The technologies that received the lowest rating typically malfunctioned in some way during the study, meaning they didn’t follow the voice command despite the driver speaking clearly.

In response to the study, The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has issued guidelines for automakers for developing future dashboard systems.

In general, safety advocates advise drivers to exercise caution when using a voice command communication system and warn that they can no longer assume that as long as hands are on the wheel and eyes are on the road drivers are doing all they can to stay safe.

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