Voice Control Technology Is Actually Distracting Drivers

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Voice controls were made for the sole purpose of keeping the roads safer as individuals are able to make their drive more comfortable without having to look away from the road or let go of the steering wheel. Car manufacturers ate up the idea and begin coming up with their own systems that allow this type of technology in their latest models. Although it makes a lot of sense, new research shows that voice controls may be a distraction; something that developers would have never imagined.

The Study

Researchers at MIT conducted a study with the support of the Collaborative Safety Research Center at Toyota. They discovered that many drivers are still looking away to select menu options or to ensure that their voice commands are heard correctly. It was often a longer process to tune the radio using voice commands than it would have been if the driver would have just reached over and done it manually. This takes concentration away from the road and onto the radio. Unfortunately, this type of distraction does not come without a cost, and researchers are looking for a way to minimize the losses associated with an idea that was made to keep individuals safe.

The study was conducted when researchers had their subjects drive automobiles that contained voice command technology. It was hoped that car manufacturers would understand the safety concerns connected with voice commands, and would make the proper changes in the designs to their systems. While it is a convenient option, it needs to keep drivers more safe, not less. It is estimated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that over 90% of US accidents were a result of driver error. Of those, texting while driving affected 18% of all fatal crashes that occurred in the year 2010. Carmakers need to see the warning signs and encourage more safety than a simple hands-free, eyes-free system.

Mental Distraction

In addition to the study done on the distraction of voice commands, another study was conducted by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. They concluded that although a driver may not get visually distracted by voice command technology, they may become mentally distracted. Rather than thinking of what is on the road in front of them and where they are going, drivers are thinking about what they need to say to get what they want from the interface. Without looking away from the road, they are mentally going over the steps that are happening with the interface, hoping that it is working correctly.

A Happy Medium

While the research has been backed up by the professionals, it is true that different drivers have different needs. Individuals will adapt to such interfaces as they are ready to. With a well designed system, there can be a happy medium for those concerned with the safety of vehicles with a voice command system and those who want the convenience of the interface. Perhaps the issue at hand is what can be done to get the drivers to accept responsibility and turn their attention back to the road.

With the announcement of the MIT study in November, Toyota provided a demonstration on measuring driver distraction. In addition, another study was announced at the show, showing an exploration of the behavior in autonomous cars.


Courtesy of IFA Auto Insurance

Sarah Pinkerton

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