Studies: Talking To Your Car While Driving Could Be A Dangerous Distraction

We know that looking at or futzing around on your phone while driving can cause distracted motorists to get into dangerous situations on the road, but what if you’re hands-free and simply talking to your car or your voice-activated smartphone while it talks back? That helpfulness may in fact be dangerous, say recent studies.

Two recent studies say onboard systems that talk with their drivers and services like the iPhone’s Siri could cause trouble behind the wheel, because while they’re designed to help you easily send a text or call someone without tapping on a phone, they’re so squirrelly to use sometimes that it only distracts people more.

For example, yelling at Siri to FIND THE NEAREST BEER WAREHOUSE and having her repeat CLIMB THE DEAREST STEER HAIRHOUSE is frustrating (And it doesn’t even make sense), and when we try harder to interact with these systems, we have to concentrate more on that and lose focus on the road, reports the Associated Press, citing studies released this week by the the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety and the University of Utah.

The first study looked at infotainment systems in car brands like Chevrolet, Chrysler, Ford, Hyundai and Mercedes, while the second checked out digital assistants like Siri’s voice system.

Voice-activated systems were tested by 162 university students and other volunteers in a lab, a driving simular and driving through a Salt Lake City neighborhood. Based on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being not a distraction at all and 5 akin to doing a complex math problem or word memorization, Siri earned a 4.14 rating, which was the worst.

In fact, twice while using Siri in a driving simulator, participants ended up rear-ending another car.

Among the car brands, Chevrolet’s MyLink had worst rating at 3.7. And the infotainment systems of Mercedes, Ford and Chrysler were dubbed more distracting for drivers than just talking on a hand-held phone.

“What we continue to see from customers is that they demand this level of technology in their vehicles, that access to music and access to calls is now a critical part of the driving experience and so we’re looking at innovative ways to provide that,” a Chevrolet spokeswoman said.

And while you’re yelling at your car to get off the station playing Nickelback as quickly as possibly, you’re probably going to be distracted.: Those that flubbed the ratings badly did so even when drivers issued clear voice commands, said David Strayer, the University of Utah psychology professor who led the two studies.

For example, telling your car to change the radio to “103.5 FM” would work, for example, but not “FM 103.5” or just “103.5.”

Siri had her shares of missteps too — including in one instance where the driver asked to call a phone number and Siri dialed 911 instead, since it was in the driver’s phonebook, so why not?

“When these systems become more complex, like sending text messages or posting to Facebook, it pushes the workloads to pretty high levels and may be dangerous while driving,” Strayer explains.

New studies point out dangers of ‘talking’ to car [Associated Press]