Hands-free devices took a major blow recently with the release of a new study declaring them a major distraction to drivers on the road.  For years both car and cell-phone companies have addressed distracted driving safety concerns with products designed to let drivers keep their hands on the wheel. Now it seems that even voice recognition causes major distractions for drivers.
Details of Study
The study in question was conducted by the American Automobile Association (AAA) and bears the weighty title of “Mental Workload of Common Voice-Based Vehicle Interactions across Six Different Vehicle Systems.” It placed 18 drivers in six different cars and required them to navigate a nine-minute course while using one of six different hands free devices. The researchers measured both driving performance and actual brain activity to determine the most dangerous distractions. It found that all voice systems are significantly more distracting than holding a conversation or listening to the radio. Among the systems tested, the least distracting was Toyota’s Entune, and the most distracting was Apple’s Siri. Talking to your phone while driving is more dangerous than any car-based system.
Findings of the Study
Interestingly, the study also found that using in car systems to play music was more distracting than placing calls despite drivers not needing to talk once the music was playing. Researchers hypothesized that voice recognition software is less likely to recognize band or song names than contacts and phone numbers, forcing drivers to spend more time looking down and speaking to the device. Audiobooks were the least distracting method of entertainment, probably because they require little to no interaction once begun.
This study has disturbing implications for the future of hand-held devices, which are expected to be in 62 million cars within the next few years. These devices are especially dangerous because they give drivers the illusion of not being distracted, leaving them off guard against their decreased awareness and slowed reaction time. Accident reports involving these devices are usually filled with drivers talking about looking at the road but not seeing obstacles or other vehicles. Even though they were taking in the information visually, their brain was otherwise engaged and failed to process what they were seeing quickly enough.
It was once hoped that hands-free devices might solve the distracted driving epidemic, but now they just look like part of the problem. More and more of our distractions are becoming mobile, and many people continue to believe driving a car does not warrant their full attention. Police reports also commonly contain phrases like “I wasn’t distracted, I was just talking on the phone.” Every year drivers like this cause more than 400,000 injuries and 3,000 deaths. Until the dangers and realities of distracted driving are better understood by the general public, senseless injuries and deaths will continue to occur.
 For more information on the study: http://mashable.com/2014/10/07/siri-study-distracted-driving/