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Study: Voice-activated vehicle systems cause distraction for drivers

Written by Ankin Law Office

Hands-free does not necessary mean safe

When drivers opt to put hands-free devices and technology in their vehicles, they often do so under the impression that they are increasing safety for them and all those around them. This idea may come from attempts by local, state and national campaigns to end the highly prevalent practice of texting and talking on a cell phone while driving, something a motorcycle crash lawyer knows is potentially deadly. Although the intent behind these campaigns was well-meaning, switching to hands-free devices may not be the way to increase safety after all. According to recent studies by the American Automobile Association’s Foundation for Traffic Safety and the University of Utah, the use of voice-activated systems within vehicles could be a huge contributor to distraction for many drivers.

About the studies

During the two simultaneous studies, researchers examined various infotainment systems from common auto brands and as well as the voice system found on popular smartphones that can be used to perform a variety of functions such as navigation, texting, posting to social media sites, and noting appointments on a calendar, all without touching or glancing at the device. Each system was graded on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 showing no distraction and 5 being as distracted as individuals performing complex math and verbal problems. Testing was performed by 162 volunteers and university students while in three separate settings: a lab, a driving simulator, and in cars in local neighborhoods.


The smartphone system received the worst rating at 4.14. Two drivers using the smartphone voice system rear-ended other vehicles in the driving simulator portion of the testing.  Among the infotainment systems, scores varied from a reasonable 1.7 to a very distracted 3.7. Four infotainment systems were found to be more distracting than talking on a regular cellphone.

Researchers found that the most distracting systems made errors despite clear and distinct commands from drivers. This increased frustration levels and the amount of cognitive functions required to use the devices; drivers had to spend a lot of mental energy thinking about how to say things in the proper way to get the systems to do what they wanted.

Lack of regulation

Despite the clear dangers that these systems place on motorists and all those around them, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has only issued voluntary guidelines for automakers to follow when providing these built-in systems to buyers. This increases the likelihood that accidents causing serious injury will continue to occur because of these distracting devices. Those who have been injured due to the distraction and negligence of another driver should contact a personal injury attorney to discuss their claim for compensation.