Doing things while you are driving is distracting. The more brain power the function requires the more distracting it is. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety partnered with researchers at the University of Utah for research on mental distraction or cognitive distraction in vehicles. The studies ranked distraction for various functions using voice commands with Siri and several in-car systems.
Siri Distraction Situation is Serious
The studies found that hands- and eyes-free use of Apple’s Siri generated a relatively high level of mental distraction. In fact ,Siri ranked higher for mental distraction than navigating complex menus. Apple’s Siri generated a relatively high category 4 level of mental distraction. Siri cause two crashes in the simulator!
Advanced technology, such as Siri, can lead to high levels of distraction when you’re trying to drive, noted the Automobile club. When systems are more complex such sending text messages or posting to Facebook, it pushes the workloads to high levels and may be dangerous while driving.
Activities and Distraction Levels
Activities, such as listening to the radio or an audio book, were not very distracting. Other activities, such as conversing with a passenger or talking on a hand-held or hands-free cellphone, were associated with moderate/significant increases in cognitive distraction. Finally,there are in-vehicle activities, such as using a speech-to-text system to send and receive text or e-mail messages, which produced a relatively high level of cognitive distraction.
Siri-based interactions involved using natural language to send and receive text messages, update Facebook or Twitter, and modify and review calendar appointments. To create a completely hands-free version, a lapel microphone was clipped to the participant’s collar and they activated Siri with the command “Hello Siri,” at which point a researcher manually activate the device. The participant neither looked at nor made physical contact with the iPhone during these interactions. Even so, the workload ratings exceeded category 4 on the AAA workload scale – the highest ratings observed for any task short of OSPAN ( the highest level of cognitive distraction).
During testing “there were two crashes in the simulator study when participants used Siri” (the only other crash observed was when participants used the menu-based systems).
Vocal Commands in Vehicles Distraction Levels of Toyota, Hyundai, Ford, Chrysler, Mercedes and Chevy
AAA also evaluated the mental demands of simple auditory-vocal vehicle commands using five 2013 and one 2012 model year OEM infotainment systems. Participants in this research completed a series of voice-based music functions and phone dialing tasks while driving an on-road course.
Each participant drove six vehicles on a seven – nine minute loop through a residential neighborhood in which they were periodically instructed to dial a 10 digit number, call a contact, change the radio station, or play a CD. All interactions took place using “hands-free” voice systems which were activated with the touch of a button on the steering wheel.
Workload was also assessed in a single-task baseline drive and during a demanding mental math task, which respectively formed the low and high workload baselines.
Across these eight conditions, measures of cognitive workload were derived from reaction time, psychophysiological, and subjective workload metrics.
Car Voice Activated System Ratings Were:
- 2012 Toyota Prius V with Entune the least distracting with a ranking of 1.7
- 2013 Hyundai Sonata SE with Blue Link 2.2
- 2013 Chrysler 300 with UConnect 2.7
- 2013 Ford Explorer using Ford SYNC with MyFord Touch 3.0
- 2013 Mercedes E350 with Mercedes-Benz’ COMAND – 3.1
- 2013 Chevy Cruz Eco with Chevy MyLink received the lowest score of 3.7
The report did not say what screen size the units had. All the testing was done on voice commands. People were not very familiar with the systems when they tested them. The testers drove all the models of the cars. The vehicles were not the “normal” cars that they drove.
It is possible that when drivers are more familiar with voice commands distractions may be reduced. The study does not cover 2014/2015 models that have more functions and may be more distracting.
All voice-to-text products and car systems offer warnings to drivers. Don’t use the features unless they are legal and safe for you. When people first get driver’s licenses they learn over a long period of time. Perhaps those using in-car systems should practice in a safe place such as huge parking lot with no traffic and no stress.