While such solutions are far better than holding a phone while driving, it turns out they still form a serious distraction for drivers. In some cases they can stop concentration for almost half a minute. That’s what two studies (PDF) carried out at the University of Utah for the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety (formerly the American Automobile Association) discovered.
Both studies focused on the use of voice commands to carry out a range of common tasks including dialing a phone number, sending a text, changing music tracks, or using one of the personal assistants offered by Microsoft, Apple, and Google for some task. The loss of concentration on the main task of driving lasted between 15 and 27 seconds even when traveling at the slow speed of 25mph. That means the car is moving for at least 300 yards with a distracted driver at the wheel.
Although nowhere near as bad as chatting on a phone held to your ear, the AAA Foundation is using these studies as a warning to drivers to be careful when deciding to use voice-controlled systems in a car. They’ve also come up with a ratings system for different actions, with the scale being 1 mild distraction, 2 moderate distraction, 3 high distraction, 4 very high distraction, and 5 maximum distraction.
Here’s a breakdown of how different in-car infotainment systems and the most common smartphone assistants rate using this new scale:
It’s very unlikely these findings will lead to such systems being banned, because how would you even police that? However, it could lead to more thought being put into the design of in-car systems so as to limit distraction as much as possible. The last thing anyone wants is accidents caused because a driver was busy talking to his car.