Determining whether or not “smart” automobiles are distracting depends largely on who you ask. If you ask consumers, as was done in the 2012 Traffic Safety Culture Index by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety (AAAFTS), 71% of drivers believe that hands-free devices are safer than hand-held ones, and over 50% of those same people don’t believe that speech-based systems are at all distracting. If you ask car manufacturers, they will claim voice systems are completely safe alternatives that allow a driver to navigate, communicate, or enjoy social media without distraction.
A research study done by the AAAFTS seems to suggest something completely different, and you may be surprised at the results. In summary, hands-free is just as bad and, in some cases, worse than using a hand-held device. Just because your eyes are on the road doesn’t mean you’re paying attention. Using multiple modes of assessment, the study evaluated six tasks that are common for modern automobiles:
- Listening to the radio
- Listening to a book on tape
- Talking to a passenger
- Talking on a hand-held device
- Talking on a hands-free device
- Interacting with a speech-to-text email system