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Some Voice-Activated Systems as Distracting as Solving Math Problems While Driving

Lady eating while driving

It can be hard to resist the siren call of a phone’s ring or buzz while we’re behind the wheel of our cars. In order to avoid the possibility of getting distracted by a screen, many of us have adopted hands-free technologies such as voice recognition software on our phones, or in-vehicle entertainment systems that connect to phones. One group of researchers sought to determine whether these systems were, in fact, safe for drivers to use, and determined that even hands-free systems can cause a driver to miss important events happening on the road in front of them.

The University of Utah, with support from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, conducted a study that compared ten different in-vehicle entertainment systems installed in popular 2015 model year vehicles to one another, giving each a score noting how great of a distraction they posed to drivers. The possible scores ranged from 1 to 5, with 1 being driving distraction free, and 5 driving while solving a math problem AND memorizing a group of words; a score of 1.2 is equivalent to driving while listening to the radio. The most distracting in-vehicle system was found to be the Mazda 6, scoring a 4.6 on the scale—frighteningly close to the impossibly-distracting scenario of memorizing words, doing math, and driving. The least distracting system was determined to be that of the Chevy Equinox, with a score of 2.6.

Researchers blamed poor interface design for the difference between the most and least distracting in-vehicle systems. For example, one system asked a driver who had already issued a command to dial a domestic number whether that driver wanted to make an international call. “Some of these systems, they haven’t been really well engineered and thought through… People may have an assumption that if it’s in a car it must have been fully tested and really good,” noted David Strayer, one of the University of Utah’s researchers.

On average, the researchers found that even the least-distracting systems drew drivers’ minds away from the road. Across the ten systems, a driver required an average of 27 seconds to fully regain focus after issuing a voice command to their in-vehicle system. When driving only 25 mph, a distracted driver could traverse the length of three football fields in that time. The least distracting system still required an average of 15 seconds for a driver’s focus to return. “The results indicate that motorists could miss stop signs, pedestrians and other vehicles while the mind is readjusting to the task of driving,” noted Peter Kissinger, president of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

If you’ve been hurt in an accident with a distracted driver in Virginia, be sure you receive the compensation you deserve by contacting the skilled personal injury lawyers at the Pack Law Group for a consultation on your case, at 540-586-7225.

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