Hands-Free Technology May Increase Driver Distraction
Springfield Missouri Personal Injury AttorneyRecently I read an article about a study conducted by the AAA Mid-Atlantic that suggested hand-free or Bluetooth technology may actually increase distracted driving. When states started passing laws or restrictions on talk or text on your cell phone while driving, so car companies began installing hands-free systems inside their vehicles. In recent years this has been marketed to the public as a safety feature, but is it? Is hands-free technology a way to keep drivers from being distracted?
AAA Mid-Atlantic’s study concluded it’s the imperfect hands-free systems that can cause people behind the wheel to lose focus on the road. “The reality is that whether you’re on a phone using a handheld or hands-free device or doing other things hands-free in your vehicle, the actual risk of you being involved in a crash quadruples,” said Ragina Averella, AAA spokesperson.
What is alarming is the automaker’s ability to translate their marketing messages into outright belief. New research showcases three out of four Americans believe hands-free technology is safe to use. In my personal experience as an auto injury lawyer I see the dangers of hands-free technology because of the cognitive use, the fact that a driver is using their mind in order to use this technology, it can be just as distracting as holding the phone to your ear.
One suggestion I would make to the auto industry is to make their hands-free technology less complicated, accurate and easier to use. A standardized system with lawmakers and manufacturers working together on improvements should enable us to help keep all drivers safer. One key area of improvement would be to design hands-free technologies that are less cognitively distracting. My experiences representing families where they were struck by drivers while using hands-free technology who missed the stop sign, ran the red light, or simply stated to the police they didn’t even see the vehicle before impact. These crashes happened because the driver’s mind was not fully focused on the road. So intended safety features in certain vehicles have shortcomings that cause greater levels of cognitive distraction.
Study by the University of Utah
Using instrumented test vehicles, heart-rate monitors and other equipment designed to measure reaction times, Dr. David Strayer and researchers from the University of Utah evaluated and ranked common voice-activated interactions based on the level of cognitive distraction generated. The team used a five-category rating system, which they created in 2013, similar to that used for hurricanes. The results show:
The accuracy of voice recognition software significantly influences the rate of distraction. Systems with low accuracy and reliability generated a high level (category 3) of distraction.
Composing text messages and emails using in-vehicle technologies (category 3) was more distracting than using these systems to listen to messages (category 2).
The quality of the systems’ voice had no impact on distraction levels – listening to a natural or synthetic voice both rated as a category 2 level of distraction.
The study also separately assessed Apple’s Siri (version iOS 7) using insight obtained from Apple about Siri’s functionality at the time the research was conducted. Researchers used the same metrics to measure a broader range of tasks including using social media, sending texts and updating calendars. The research uncovered that hands- and eyes-free use of Apple’s Siri generated a relatively high category 4 level of mental distraction.
Summary of Results for Driver Actions
To put all of this year’s findings in context, last year’s research revealed that listening to the radio rated as a category 1 distraction; talking on a hand-held or hands-free cell phone resulted in a category 2 distraction; and using an error-free speech-to-text system to listen to and compose emails or texts was a category 3 distraction.
“Technologies used in the car that rely on voice communications may have unintended consequences that adversely affect road safety,” said Peter Kissinger, President and CEO of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. “The level of distraction and the impact on safety can vary tremendously based on the task or the system the driver is using.”
To assess “real-world” impact, Dr. Joel Cooper with Precision Driving Research evaluated the two most common voice-based interactions in which drivers engage – changing radio stations and voice dialing – with the actual voice-activated systems found in six different automakers’ vehicles. On the five point scale, Toyota’s Entune® system garnered the lowest cognitive distraction ranking (at 1.7), which is similar to listening to an audio book. In comparison, the Chevrolet MyLink® resulted in a high level of cognitive distraction (rating of 3.7). Other systems tested included the Hyundai Blue Link (rating 2.2), the Chrysler Uconnect™ (rating 2.7), Ford SYNC with MyFord Touch® (rating 3.0) and the Mercedes COMAND® (rating 3.1).
Technology has and will continue to play a huge role in what I do. Drivers on Missouri’s roadways are impacted daily by hands-free technologies whether they know it or not. It is clear to me that not all voice systems or hands-free technologies are created equally. Today’s imperfect systems can lead to driver distraction that can have deadly consequences. I am passionate in preventing as many car crashes as I can through educating the public. This is just one of several topics within the distracted driving realm we need to better inform ourselves on. So please take an extra minute or two, slow down, and do what you can to help keep you, your family, and other drivers safe.