COLUMBUS, Ohio (WTVN) -- Voice-activated in-car technologies are becoming increasingly popular, but new findings from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety show that these technologies dangerously undermine driver attention.
The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety worked with cognitive distraction expert, Dr. David Strayer, and his research team at the University of Utah to measure brainwaves, eye movement and other metrics, in order to assess what happens to drivers’ mental workload when performing various cognitive tasks.
Building on five decades of work in aviation psychology, the research found that as mental workload and distractions increase, reaction time slows, brain function is compromised and drivers scan the road less. This can cause them to miss items right in front of them, including stop signs and pedestrians.
Study participants engaged in common tasks, from listening to an audio book or talking on the phone, to listening and responding to voice-activated emails while driving.
Researchers used the results to rate the levels of mental distractions drivers experienced while performing each task on a scale. The levels of mental distraction included minimal risks like listening to the radio, moderate risks like talking on a cell phone, both hand-held and hands-free, and extensive risks like listening and responding to in-vehicle voice-activated e-mail features.
“These findings reinforce previous research that hands-free is not risk-free,” said AAA Foundation President and CEO Peter Kissinger. “Increased mental workload and cognitive distraction can lead to a type of tunnel vision or inattention blindness, where motorists don’t see potential hazards right in front of them.”
Based on this research, AAA urges the automotive and electronic industries to limit the use of voice-activated technology to core driving-related activities, such as climate control, windshield wipers and cruise control, and to ensure these applications do not lead to increased safety risks while the car is moving. AAA also wants to see the disabiling of certain functionalities of voice-to-text technologies, such as using social media or interacting with e-mail and text messages while the vehicle is in motion.
“This study constitutes the most in-depth analysis to date of mental distractions behind the wheel,” said AAA President and CEO Robert L. Darbelnet. “AAA is hopeful that it will serve as a stepping stone toward working in collaboration with automakers to promote our shared goal of improving safety for all drivers.”