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Voice-Activated Systems and Distracted Driving

Two recent studies have called into question the safety of voice-activated technology used by drivers. Distracted driving accidents injured an estimated 421,000 people in 2012, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The NHTSA defines distracted driving as "any activity that could divert a person's attention away from the primary task of driving." The definition does not say anything about taking the driver's hands off the wheel. This is an important thing to note due to the rise of hands-free and voice-activated technology.

According to a Chevrolet spokeswoman, consumers now consider access to music and calls a critical part of the driving experience. One of the two studies analyzed the impact of built-in infotainment systems on the level of driver distraction. The study found that the systems could be highly distracting, particularly in cases where voice activation system made errors or was frustrating to use.

The second study specifically analyzed the iPhone Siri voice system. It asked participants to complete tasks such as using the navigation system, sending a text message, posting to Facebook and Twitter and using the calendar. The Siri system was rated as more distracting than even the lowest performing infotainment system.

The NHTSA has called on auto makers to adhere to certain voluntary guidelines for dashboard systems. The guidelines call for reduced complexity and task length for completing any action. The NHTSA is also working on guidelines for cell phone makers and other voice-activated technology manufacturers. All the guidelines would be voluntary.

Source: AP News, "New studies point out dangers of 'talking' to car," by Joan Lowy, 7 October 2014

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