AAA Study Finds Hands-Free Devices are Surprisingly Very Distracting

In today’s world, finding time to “unplug” from our phones can be pretty tough, if not impossible. Many of us find we’re constantly connected while at work, at home, and everywhere in between. But it’s that “in between” that worries researchers most. 

A new distracted driving study conducted by AAA and the University of Utah found that many of today’s hands-free and voice command technologies are not the distraction-eliminators they’re intended to be. In fact, the study found that the worst offending of these devices can mentally distract drivers for as long as 27 seconds…even if their eyes are on the road and hands are on the wheel. The new study evaluated 10 hands-free systems currently installed in 2015 model year vehicles as well as three smartphone voice-activated systems, and found that each increased mental distraction to “potentially unsafe” levels while drivers made phone calls, queued up music, or sent texts using voice commands. 

AAA Study Finds Hands-Free Devices are Surprisingly Very Distracting

“The lasting effects of mental distraction pose a hidden and pervasive danger that would likely come as a surprise to most drivers,” said Peter Kissinger, President and CEO of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. “The results indicate that motorists could miss stop signs, pedestrians and other vehicles while the mind is readjusting to the task of driving.” Seen in the graph above, the results of each system were rated on a five-point scale, with one point (“mild distraction”) equivalent to listening to the radio, and four points (“very high distraction”) equivalent to updating social media while driving. Of the vehicles and systems tested, the Chevrolet Equinox and Buick Lacrosse scored best of all, showing a cognitive distraction rating of just 2.4. At the opposite end, the Mazda 6’s system rated as the most mentally distracting with a score of 4.6. Researchers scored Google’s smartphone voice-command system best at 3.0 when making calls or changing music, followed by Apple with a score of 3.4 and Microsoft at 3.8. The report found using the phones to send texts via voice command significantly elevated these levels of distraction. 

 

AAA Study Finds Hands-Free Devices are Surprisingly Very Distracting

The solution moving forward? AAA advises all drivers to be more mindful of how distracting these technologies can really be, even if they’re designed to help. The auto club also suggests that developers need to work on simplifying these systems. Given that many of these voice command technologies are still in their infancy, that’s likely the trend we’ll see over the next few years. Simpler, faster…and hopefully, safer.

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