Car News

Up to 27 seconds of inattention after using hands-free technology in your car…

New research in the US has revealed that using hands-free technology via your smartphone and vehicle may result in up to 27 seconds of inattention and “adversely affect traffic safety”.

THE AAA FOUNDATION FOR TRAFFIC SAFETY has tested 10 2015 model year vehicles fitted with voice-based technology, finding that while using voice-based technology drivers were as mentally distracted as if they were performing general maths and memory tests. Indeed, the AAA found that it takes 27 seconds to regain full cognitive control after you’ve finished issuing voice commands ‘to your car’.

One study discovered it was highly distracting to issue voice commands using hands-free on your smartphone to select songs, make voice calls, and send texts via all of the major smartphone operating systems. The other study revealed that the majority of in-car systems were rated as moderately distracting, while the 2015 Mazda6 was rated as highly distracted.

“Just because these systems are in the car doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to use them while you are driving,” says University of Utah psychology professor David Strayer, senior author of the two new studies. “They are very distracting, very error prone and very frustrating to use. Far too many people are dying because of distraction on the roadway, and putting another source of distraction at the fingertips of drivers is not a good idea. It’s better not to use them when you are driving.”

“Most people think, ‘I hang up and I’m good to go,'” Strayer says. “But that’s just not the case. We see it takes a surprisingly long time to come back to full attention. Even sending a short text message can cause almost another 30 seconds of impaired attention.”

The research also discovered that despite what some of us might argue, familiarity with voice-recognition systems doesn’t eliminate cognitive distraction.

“The voice-command technology isn’t ready,” says Joel Cooper, a University of Utah research assistant professor of psychology and a co-author of the new studies. “It’s in the cars and is billed as a safe alternative to manual interactions with your car, but the voice systems simply don’t work well enough.”

“Many of these systems have been put into cars with a voice-recognition system to control entertainment: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Facetime, etc. We now are trying to entertain the driver rather than keep the driver’s attention on the road.”

How the test was performed

The research team developed and validated a cognitive distraction scale “based on converging operations from the laboratory, driving simulator, and using an instrumented vehicle driven in a residential section of Salt Lake City”. The university’s research team discovered that cognitive workload and its distraction potential can be reliably measured, “and that some activities, particularly newer voice-based interactions in the vehicle, are associated with surprisingly high levels of mental workload”.

“The seven tasks were listening to the radio, listening to a book on tape, talking to a passenger, talking on a hands-free cell phone, talking on a hand-held cell phone, interacting with a simple voice messaging system, and a cognitively demanding Operation Span (OSPAN) task that was used for calibration.”

With researchers in the car, the drivers were tested for the extent of their distraction, even as they kept their eyes on the road and hands on the wheel after hitting a voice-command system button. A head-mounted LED light flashed red every three to five seconds at the edge of a driver’s left eye. Drivers pressed a switch attached to a thumb when they saw the light. The researchers measured how voice interactions with a car or smartphone reduced drivers’ reaction times and accuracy at seeing the flashing lights. The drivers also completed surveys about their perceived level of distraction, and videos measured how much of the time they kept their eyes on the road, mirrors or dashboard.

The in-vehicle information system study included 257 people and the smartphone personal assistant study had 65 participants, all with no at-fault accidents during the past five years. Unlike the 2013 and 2014 studies, which included primarily people in their 20s, subjects in the new studies ranged in age from 21 to 70.

You can read the full study HERE.

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Isaac Bober

Isaac Bober