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Distraction levels by task. Click on the arrow at top right of image to see a chart showing how some automakers' voice technologies fared in the study.

Trade-off for convenience of voice control is driver distraction, study says

Not all hands-free technologies are alike, and poorly designed ones can increase driver distraction. That was one of the findings of an AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety study, the results of which it released Oct. 7. The good news for consumers, AAA says, is that "it is possible to design hands-free technologies that are less cognitively distracting." The research suggests that developers can improve the safety of their products by making them less complicated, more accurate, and generally easier to use. While automakers continue with efforts to develop and refine systems that reduce distractions, AAA encourages drivers to minimize cognitive distraction by limiting the use of most voice-based technologies. "We already know that drivers can miss stop signs, pedestrians, and other cars while using voice technologies because their mind is not fully focused on the road ahead," said Beth Mosher, Director of Public Affairs for AAA Chicago. "We now understand that current shortcomings in these products, intended as safety features, may unintentionally cause greater levels of cognitive distraction." Among the major findings:

• The accuracy of voice-recognition software significantly influences the rate of distraction. Systems with low accuracy and reliability generated a high level of distraction (3 on a scale of 1-5, with 5 being the highest level of distraction).

• Composing text messages and emails using in-vehicle technologies was more distracting than using these systems to listen to messages (level 2).

• The quality of the systems' voice had no impact on distraction levels. Listening to a natural or synthetic voice both rated as level 2.

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