Study shows dangers of in-car technology designed to reduce distraction

A new study reveals that voice-based in-car technology can be more distracting than cellphones, especially when the technology fails to work as expected

As technology has become more advanced and constantly accessible, it has also become an irresistible source of distraction for many drivers in Stratford, Connecticut. State law helps protect innocent motorists by banning texting as well as handheld cellphone use. Still, even if motorists follow these laws, the number of legal distractions is growing.

Hands-free systems that people operate through voice commands are often touted as useful tools to help drivers safely multitask without any manual or visual distractions. Many automakers even build these systems directly into new vehicles. Unfortunately, recent research indicates that the cognitive distraction these devices create may still put other drivers at risk.

More distracting than cellphones

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety and the University of Utah conducted the study to measure how drivers performed while using in-car technology to control their phones, play music or get directions. According to the Los Angeles Times, the study used special vehicles, heart-rate monitors and other measurements to analyze how distracting each system was.

Two out of three systems reviewed were rated as more distracting than using a handheld phone. During virtual simulations, two distracted drivers crashed while trying to use a popular voice-control phone application. Researchers suggested that the following factors made some of the hands-free systems so distracting:

  • Limited phrase recognition: Some systems only recognized commands if drivers used certain phrasing, which required drivers to put significant attention into their choice of words.
  • Errors: Many systems made mistakes, from dialing the wrong number to incorrectly transcribing a dictated text, forcing drivers to put more focus into correcting the error. In some cases, drivers had to start a task over, increasing the time they spent with their attention off the road.
  • Emotional distraction: Some drivers became irritated or even began cursing at the systems when they failed to work, which likely reduced their focus on driving.

Proponents of in-car technology contend that this technology prevents drivers from reaching for items or taking their eyes off the road, which are behaviors known to increase crash risk. The effects of cognitive distraction, meanwhile, are still being studied. However, established research does suggest that cognitive distraction is just as dangerous as other types of distraction.

Too much of a mental burden

According to the National Safety Council, multitasking is something that the brain cannot safely handle during driving. When "multitasking," the brain really juggles between tasks. This results in lower focus and poor performance in each activity.

More than 30 studies have shown that hands-free cellphones are just as distracting as handheld cellphones. Drivers using either type of phone tend to ignore half of the visual cues in their driving environments, greatly raising the risk of accidents. These studies did not focus on hands-free in-car technology, but the findings are still relevant, since the AAA and University of Utah study found that many in-vehicle systems were actually more distracting than cellphones.

Unfortunately, many drivers may think these systems are completely safe to use, leaving other motorists exposed to needless danger. Anyone who has been hurt in a distracted driving accident should think about meeting with an attorney to discuss pursuing compensation.

Keywords: distracted, driving, texting, accident, injury