It has been widely accepted that hands-free voice commands are the safest way to interact with a cell phone while driving, and understandably so, but new research reveals that we might have been a bit too hopeful about our virtual assistants. According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, hands-free technology is so complex and inaccurate that it can actually be mentally distracting enough to be considered a threat to driver safety.
“We already know that drivers can miss stop signs, pedestrians and other cars while using voice technologies because their minds are not fully focused on the road ahead,” said Bob Darbelnet, CEO of AAA. “We now understand that current shortcomings in these products, intended as safety features, may unintentionally cause greater levels of cognitive distraction.”
The research team went so far as to develop a five-category rating system to judge the danger of voice-activated technologies. Composing a text message or an email ranked as a category 3 distraction while listening back to messages ranked as a lower category 2.
Siri was put through its paces as well and the results were especially disheartening — Apple’s virtual assistant “generated a relatively high category 4 level of mental distraction.” Maybe Microsoft wasn’t too far off base with the Cortana commercials after all.
The results of the research show that these technologies would be much safer if they more accurate and easier to use. As it stands, AAA recommends drivers avoid hands-free technology while behind the wheel of an automobile.
“It is clear that not all voice systems are created equal, and today’s imperfect systems can lead to driver distraction,” continued Darbelnet. “AAA is confident that it will be possible to make safer systems in the future.”