Hands-Free Tech Could Contribute To Distracted Driving

Hands-free systems were designed to help drivers focus on the road, but do they really?
Posted at 3:18 PM, Oct 07, 2014

New research reveals in-vehicle devices, intended to keep drivers more focused on the road, are actually a distraction of their own.

These hands-free systems are thought to give the driver the convenience of simply speaking to the vehicle rather than looking for buttons to press. 

But a study conducted by AAA and researchers from the University of Utah reveals these systems "may unintentionally cause greater levels of cognitive distraction."

For instance, how does this make you feel?

THE UNIVERSITY OF UTAH"I'm sorry, I did not catch that. ... Correction. ... Delete."

So, just because your hands are on the wheel doesn't mean you're focused.

AAA"You're not necessarily safer just because your eyes are on the road and your hands on the wheel if your brain isn't geared on driving."

JOEL COOPER, RESEARCH ASSISTANT PROFESSOR AT THE UNIVERSITY OF UTAH"It has errors, you get frustrated, and you quit and you go back to the manual way. There's this promise of hands-free interaction, but the reality is not there."

The research team used a five-category rating system. The highest level of distraction is category five. 

They found these to be major causes of distraction among drivers:

1. Technology with low accuracy and reliability — think voice chatting a text (category 3)

2. Composing messages (category 3) 

3. Simply listening to a natural or synthetic voice (category 2)

The study involved 162 University of Utah students and other volunteers. Researchers collected data as the participants performed common tasks while driving. The study also separately assessed Apple's Siri. 

The researchers found drivers using Siri without using their eyes and hands still experienced a high category-four level of mental distraction. 

And it's not just newfangled technology. Radios have been around for decades, and last year they were listed as a category 1 distraction.

However, with these recent findings, AAA plans to work with manufacturers to make technology safer while driving. It also encourages drivers to limit their use of technology on the road.

This video includes images from Jiulliano / CC By-ND 2.0 and Doc Searls / CC BY-SA 2.0.