A look at voice-activated devices

Using a hands-free or hand-held cellphone while driving can be a deadly practice. Distracted driving leads to serious car accidents, injuries and even death. In the height of cellular device use, vehicle manufacturers pushed voice-activated technology as a way to limit driver distraction. Drivers can simply speak out commands, compose texts, play music and perform other functions while keeping their hands on the steering wheel and eyes on the road. A study released by AAA shows, however, that there are variances between voice-activated systems, and while some are safer than others, all still cause a significant amount of cognitive distraction.

During the study, participants were asked to drive six vehicles through a neighborhood. Each vehicle used a different type of voice-activated technology. Drivers were asked to perform certain voice commands, including changing the radio station, playing a CD, calling a contact and dialing a phone number. Researchers then evaluated drivers’ heart rate, mental workload and reaction time, as well their personal assessments. The results showed that as drivers were asked to complete more complicated tasks, their reaction time slowed, and heart rate increased. The level of difficulty varied across different car systems. Furthermore, the study found that voice-activated tasks were more distracting than listening to an audio book, having a conversation with a passenger in the vehicle or listening to the radio.

Voice-activated technology that is difficult to use may lead to cognitive distraction that could slow reaction time, and ultimately lead to an accident. As car manufacturers develop voice-activated technology that is easier to use, distraction times may decrease.