Voice-activated tech in cars isn't so safe after all, AAA says

Drivers using hands-free voice-activated technology might have their eyes fixed squarely on the road ahead them, but that doesn't mean they're not at risk.

Drivers using hands-free voice-activated technology might have their eyes fixed squarely on the road ahead of them, but that doesn't mean they're not at risk, according to a study from AAA.

The study from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, which was released this week, shows dangerous mental distractions exist even when drivers keep their hands on the wheel and their eyes on the road. Hands-free technology still creates a distraction and places a mental workload on the driver, causing reaction times to slow, the study says. Drivers scan the road less and miss visual cues, according to the study.

The AAA has appealed to automakers, including Ford, to look at limiting use of voice-activated technology to core driving-related activities, such as climate control, navigation and cruise control. AAA also has asked automakers to disable certain functions of voice-to-text technologies, such as using social media or interacting with email and text messages.

This, of course, would put a damper on the burgeoning industry of voice-activated consumer electronics as well as mobile app developers who have designed apps to work hands free. For example, Waze, the mapping and navigation startup recently purchased by Google , tries to give users the shortest routes by tapping into a mobile device’s GPS information and a social network of other drivers to learn about traffic hazards and other potential slowdowns up ahead. Waze added a hands-free feature last year.

The Consumer Electronics Association raised concerns about the AAA study, specifically that it suffers from a number of methodology flaws that makes its conclusions about voice-to-text technology questionable.

"This study could hardly be considered naturalistic as it relied on young drivers in unfamiliar cars, wearing a type of helmet and driving on a defined course when compared to studies which track real drivers in real situations," Gary Shapiro, CEO of the trade group said in a statement. The photo above shows the study in progress.

Shapiro pointed to a study by Virginia Tech's Transportation Institute on behalf of the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), which was in a more natural real-world scenario and found that hands-free, voice-activated devices constitute no increased safety risks.

Photo: AAA

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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