Driver distraction study looks at vehicle systems controlled by voice

by | Oct 31, 2014

In an attempt to decrease the number of people injured and killed in auto accidents caused by distracted drivers, many states, including Tennessee, have enacted laws banning the use of handheld cellphones and texting while driving. These laws have prompted many drivers to put down their handheld cellular devices and rely solely on voice activated devices within their vehicles to conduct business while traveling. CBS News reported that a study released by AAA shows how voice activated devices, which are designed to increase safety while driving, may actually make driving more dangerous.

The study

While the general concept of voice activated cellular technology is somewhat new, many programs come with their fair share of errors. A recent study conducted by Dr. David Strayer from the University of Utah proposes that these errors may be the cause of significant stress and distraction to motorists who are driving while simultaneously voicing commands to their car.

In order to measure the level of cognitive distraction a driver experiences while using voice-activated technology, researchers used test vehicles equipped with heart-rate monitors and other instruments created to detect driver reaction times. During the study, motorists were given simple voice command tasks to complete while driving, including listening to and composing emails and text messages using different types of voice-activated technology. They were also asked to interact with different voice activated systems, ranging from systems that were completely accurate and reliable to those that were less reliable.

The results

The study found that drivers who used voice-activated technology to compose emails and text messages were more distracted that those who used hands free devices to simply listen to their messages. The results of the study also supported researchers’ initial theories that problems with voice-activated technology have a substantial influence on the amount of driver distraction experienced. For example, when drivers used hands free technology that was unable to understand their commands, they had higher rates of distraction.

These recent findings add clarity to research Strayer conducted on cognitive distraction last year. Previous studies revealed the effects of cognitive distraction on a motorist’s reaction time and ability to drive.

According to the AAA report, researchers hope this information will help vehicle manufacturers improve the accuracy of their voice-activated technology in order to minimize potential driver distraction. reports that 3,328 people were killed and an additional 421,000 people were seriously injured in distracted driving car accidents in 2012. Continued research and technological improvements may help to decrease these alarming statistics in the future.