According to a recent study conducted by the University of Utah for the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, using hands-free technologies to talk, text or send email while driving is not as safe as many have believed. Driver distraction from secondary in-vehicle activities is increasingly recognized as a significant source of injuries and fatalities on the roadway.
Researches of the study measured brainwaves, eye movement and other metrics to assess what happens to a drives mental workload when they are multitasking. During the study they tested in-vehicle activities such as listening to the radio, audio book, having a conversation on a hands-free device vs. hand-held devise, speech-to-text and passenger.
They categorized the cognitive distraction from levels 1 through 5.
- Listening to the radio or a book on tape feel in to a Category-1 level of distraction
- A passenger in the vehicle or speaking with a friend over the phone was a Category-2 level of distraction
- Speech-to-text was considered a Category-3 level of distraction
The research found that as mental workload and distractions increase, reaction time slows, brain function is compromised, drivers scan the road less and miss visual cues.
With the current trend towards more voice command in vehicles, the Category-3 level of cognitive distraction is troubling. Car manufacturers are presenting customers with a variety of options in their vehicles. Such as making movie or dinner reservations, send and receiving text or email and posting on Facebook. The research suggest that such voice-based interactions are not risk-free and can in some cases rise to a level of distraction associated with drunk driving. The study suggests that the adoption of voice-based systems in the vehicle may have unintended consequences that adversely affect traffic safety.
The best thing we all can take from this study is to always keep our eyes on the road and avoid distractions that may keep us from focusing on our driving.
What are your thoughts on this study? Do you think voice-based systems in vehicles are safer or cause more distraction to the driver?