A new study by AAA’s Foundation for Highway Safety found talking on a hands-free phone to be nearly as distracting to drivers as using a handheld phone—and using a speech-to-text system to be most distracting of all.
Research recently released by AAA’s Foundation for Highway Safety found that using some hands-free systems in cars can distract drivers more than talking on a handheld phone.
“This clearly suggests that the adoption of voice-based systems in the vehicle may have unintended consequences that adversely affect traffic safety.”
In the June study, researchers established a scale to measure drivers’ cognitive distraction, with a 1.0 being low and a 5.0 being high. While listening to the radio rated only a 1.21, conversations proved to be far more distracting to drivers. Talking on a hand-held phone rated 2.45 on the scale, slightly higher than talking to a passenger in the vehicle (2.33) or on a hands-free phone (2.27). But using a talk-to-text system rated a 3.06.
“Compared to other activities studied (e.g., listening to the radio, conversing with passengers, etc.), we found that interacting with the speech-to-text system was the most cognitively distracting,” the study states. “This clearly suggests that the adoption of voice-based systems in the vehicle may have unintended consequences that adversely affect traffic safety.”
The research revealed that even when a driver’s eyes are on the road and hands are on the wheel “sources of cognitive distraction cause significant impairments to driving.” According to the study, a distracted driver can experience “suppressed brain activity, increased reaction time, missed cues, and decreased visual scanning.”
AAA states that 56 percent of drivers believe that hands-free communication is acceptable. The group told the Associated Press that nearly 9 million cars and trucks have voice-recognition systems, a number expected to jump to 62 million by 2018.
“We believe there is a public safety crisis looming,” AAA spokeswoman Yolanda Cade said in the AP report. “We hope this study will change some widely held misconceptions by motorists.”
Gloria Bergquist, vice president for public affairs at the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, told The New York Times that the association was “concerned about any study that suggests that handheld phones are comparably risky to the hands-free systems we are putting in our vehicles.” She also pointed out that people now live in a “connected society” and “want to be connected in their car just as they are in their home or wherever.”
In April, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found drivers distracted by handheld phones were more likely to crash and released a set of voluntary guidelines that garnered a mixed response from associations.