While smartphone companies and car-makers are converging to promote new connectivity and inter-connectivity options inside your dash in an effort to espouse safer, hands-free use of technology while driving, you may want to wait before you jump in and get any of those options. According to the latest report by the American Automobile Association, also known as AAA, these options lead to more distractions and may be more dangerous for drivers and everyone else who has to share the road with them.
Most recently this week, Apple had announced its broader initiative in the car space. After having debuted Siri Eyes-Free last year, the iPhone-maker is now working with a number of car companies to bring Siri in the Car as part of iOS 7. The new Siri in the car not only does the Siri voice controls that the older Eyes-Free plan offered, but now includes bringing music and select apps to the car, like Apple Maps.
Apple would like to have you believe that its innovation would be better for users as it eliminates distractions of having to hold your phone while driving and trying to text. To a degree, this is true, and the move helps users comply with legislation in a number of states that make it illegal to not use a phone hands-free while operating a motor vehicle.
However, AAA says that the mental distraction is still there while you’re thinking of the text to speak and composing the text to your virtual assistant via voice. As a result, drivers have a slower reaction time, which means that they may not see pedestrians and other cars and road hazards until it’s too late.
In a report by BGR, AAA conducted its test using drivers in their 20s and 30s with clean driving records. The agency observed the drivers while the drivers were trying to multitask in their cars.
Researchers used special sensors mounted on a driver’s head to measure their reaction time and the levels of mental distraction they experienced while performing each task. Listening to the radio was found to be the least distracting and posed minimal risk, while both handheld and hands-free calling had a moderate risk. The advocacy group found that using voice-activated commands and features posed an extensive risk to both drivers and pedestrians.
The agency concludes that hands-free isn’t risk free. The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says that it will evaluate AAA’s findings and study the impacts more.
It should be noted that Apple isn’t the only one who is introducing voice command in the car as a means to enable hands-free operations of cell phones. Though not integrated like Apple’s solution with the car, Android smartphone-makers such as HTC and Samsung do offer car mode where there is more restricted access to the phone while driving.