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In-Car Infotainment System Voice Commands Distract Drivers, Study Shows

Posted February 02, 2016 10:53 AM by Jordan Perch

Voice commands in in-car infotainment systems are supposed to help make it easier for drivers to use these systems and avoid distractions, but there are a lot of studies suggesting that using an infotainment system through voice controls actually increases driver distraction.

The latest studies that point to the negative effect of voice commands were conducted by the University of Utah for the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. The AAA has published two studies that suggest that infotainment systems that employ voice commands can be very distracting, even though their main goal is to reduce distractions. What's more, the studies show that voice commands distract drivers even after they are done using them, a finding that has not been revealed in the past.


In one of the studies, researchers at the University of Utah analyzed how using Microsoft Cortana, Apple Siri or Google Now smartphone personal assistants to send text messages, dial phone numbers, make calls, and control the car's audio system through voice commands affects a person's ability to focus on the driving tasks while sitting behind the wheel. Google Now was found to be the least distracting of the three systems.


For the second study, infotainment systems in 10 model-year 2015 vehicles were tested, with drivers making phone calls, sending text messages and changing music via voice controls. Researchers found that the least distracting infotainment systems were those found in the Chevrolet Equinox, Buick Lacrosse and Toyota 4Runner, with the Mazda6 system being the most distracting, receiving a "very highly distracting" rating.


The systems were rated on a scale from 1-4, with 1 referring to "mild distraction", 2 being "moderately distracting", 3 - "highly distracting", and 4 - "very highly distracting".


"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."


The authors of the studies found that a driver traveling at 25 mph is distracted for an additional 27 seconds after having stopped using highly distracting voice controlled systems, and up to 15 seconds after they are done using moderately distracting systems. This is an very unexpected and alarming finding, and it highlights the risks of using in-car infotainment systems through hands-free controls, which has not been considered very dangerous up until now.


"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."


The results of these studies clearly show that using voice-activated in-vehicle infotainment systems and smartphones while driving can pose a serious threat to traffic safety.

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#1

Re: In-Car Infotainment System Voice Commands Distract Drivers, Study Shows

02/02/2016 12:55 PM

Anything other than driving while behind the wheel is a distraction.

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Re: In-Car Infotainment System Voice Commands Distract Drivers, Study Shows

02/02/2016 1:04 PM

It seems to me it would be interesting to see how the distractions compare to different types of conversations with passengers.

I saw they do have a category that's supposed to be the distraction level of listening to the radio, but no mention (unless I missed it) of talking with passengers (casual conversation, arguing, knowledge transfer, etc.).

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Re: In-Car Infotainment System Voice Commands Distract Drivers, Study Shows

02/02/2016 1:44 PM

But with passengers (at least some of them), they are aware of what's happening around them and can pause when they sense that the driver needs to devote more processing and I/O bandwidth to the driving interrupts. Of course, ideally, all drivers would be RTOS, but sadly that ship sailed long ago. It used to be the only serious distraction was when the 8-track player started to 'eat' your Steppenwolf tape.

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Re: In-Car Infotainment System Voice Commands Distract Drivers, Study Shows

02/02/2016 2:03 PM

But with passengers (at least some of them), they are aware of what's happening around them and can pause when they sense that the driver needs to devote more processing...

That's true for passengers who are situationally aware (leaves out my daughter and probably most kids under 20 years old).

My suggestion of comparing with distractions do to passengers is so that there is a baseline - it would give something to gauge the results by. If there were no difference (or very little) than chatting passengers, then the discussion about what to do with or about such distractions (passengers, infotainment systems, Voice commands, etc.) is quite different, IMHO.

Of course one could make the argument that it's probably easier for the driver to manage using the distracting equipment more effectively than unaware passengers. A driver who is operating a car in heavy traffic in the rain can easily ignore those distracting electronics or dealing with the Steppenwolf tape eating 8 track players and focus on the road probably more easily than ignoring certain passengers.

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Re: In-Car Infotainment System Voice Commands Distract Drivers, Study Shows

02/02/2016 8:50 PM

True, it is very passenger dependent.

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Re: In-Car Infotainment System Voice Commands Distract Drivers, Study Shows

02/02/2016 2:22 PM

You bring back some fond memories. My very first 8 track tape was Steppenwolf.

Fortunately, my 8 track player never ate that one. It did however eat my Blondie tape. I can't say that I blame it.

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Re: In-Car Infotainment System Voice Commands Distract Drivers, Study Shows

02/02/2016 8:51 PM

Yeah, I'd have to agree.

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Re: In-Car Infotainment System Voice Commands Distract Drivers, Study Shows

02/02/2016 1:45 PM

My guess that it depends a lot on how used the driver is to the system. Early on the learning curve, the driver is very distracted. After he has used it repeatedly and learned the common commands, he probably would not be so distracted.

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Re: In-Car Infotainment System Voice Commands Distract Drivers, Study Shows

02/02/2016 2:22 PM

Good point. I agree.

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