Hands-Free Feature Doesn’t Stop Driving Distractions

Melissa Brown Contributor
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A study released Tuesday found that hands-free car systems keep drivers hands and eyes on the wheel, but are still responsible for hazardous distractions.

Hands-free systems are found in most new cars, and these safety features allow the driver to use their voice to send text messages, make phone calls and tune the radio, while keeping their eyes on the road. Research by AAA and the University of Utah challenges these so-called safety features, saying they require a level of cognitive distraction that can cause drivers to overlook obstacles on the road, reports CNN.

Drivers can overlook stop signs, pedestrians and other cars while using voice technologies “because their minds are not fully focused on the road ahead.” said Bob Darbelnet, chief executive officer of AAA. According to the report, Measuring Cognitive Distraction in the Automobile II.

The study graded the voice-activated systems on a distraction scale of 1 to 5, with 1 representing no distraction and 5 comparable to doing complex math problems and word memorization. The study examined common auto brands, and Apple iPhone’s Siri. David Strayer, a psychology professor at the University of Utah led the study using an iOS 7 version of Siri that was run to be as close as possible to the newly released iOS 8 version.

The study found that most cars with hands-free systems in 2013 were more distracting than actually talking on a cellphone. GM’s Chevrolet MyLink received one of the worst rating, 3.7, among the systems. Apple’s Siri exceeded Chevrolet with a level of 4 on the workload scale.

Systems like Siri that required the driver to concentrate on their word choice scored worst in the rating system. For example, an infotainment system might recognize a command to change a radio station to “103.5 FM,” but not “FM 103.5” or simply “103.5,” Strayer said.