Voice-activated systems distract drivers, study finds

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Washington – Drivers can be distracted for nearly 30 seconds after using voice commands to complete tasks such as sending a text message or changing music, according to a new study from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

The researchers studied cognitive distractions in 10 in-vehicle systems and in three smartphone voice-activation programs, and then rated the software’s distraction levels.

The worst-performing systems, which generally had the most errors in their operation, resulted in mental distractions that could last as long as 27 seconds after completing the task, the research results showed. At a speed of 25 mph, this is the equivalent of a driver traveling about three football fields while distracted, the foundation stated. The best-performing voice-activated systems resulted in an impaired period of about 15 seconds after the task was completed.

Although voice-activated systems often are a selling point for consumers, National Safety Council President and CEO Deborah A.P. Hersman warned that the features are intended to keep people connected but not necessarily safe.

“In a showroom setting, it feels like we’re on the bleeding edge of technology, but it isn’t until we get on the road that drivers discover how distracting these systems can be,” Hersman said about the study in a blog post for The Huffington Post.

AAA advises drivers to exercise caution when using voice-activated systems, even during a lull in traffic or at a stop because the mental distraction may persist after the person’s attention turns back to traffic.