Voice Activated Dashboards
In a landmark study, researchers found that some forms of hands-free technology — such as a driver voice activated dashboards to send an email while behind the wheel — are actually more distracting than merely talking on a cellphone.
The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety Wednesday released the findings of its study, saying, “Hands-free technologies might make it easier for motorists to text, talk on the phone, or even use Facebook while they drive, but new findings from the show dangerous mental distractions exist even when drivers keep their hands on the wheel and their eyes on the road.”
The study determined as a driver’s mental workload increases his or her reaction time slows and brain function is compromised.
“Drivers scan the road less and miss visual cues, potentially resulting in drivers not seeing items right in front of them including stop signs and pedestrian,” AAA said in a press release. “This is the most comprehensive study of its kind to look at the mental distraction of drivers and arms AAA with evidence to appeal to the public to not use these voice-to-text features while their vehicle is in motion.”
By 2018 there is expected to be a five-fold increase in so-called “infotainment” systems in new vehicles, which has the AAA nervous.
“There is a looming public safety crisis ahead with the future proliferation of these in-vehicle technologies,” AAA President and CEO Robert Darbelnet said in a statement. “It’s time to consider limiting new and potentially dangerous mental distractions built into cars, particularly with the common public misperception that hands-free means risk-free.”
For the study, cognitive distraction expert Dr. David Strayer and his research team at the University of Utah measured brainwaves, eye movement and other metrics to find out what happens to drivers’ mental workload when they attempt to do multiple things at once.
The research incorporated:
* Cameras mounted inside an instrumented car to track eye and head movement of drivers.
* A Detection-Response-Task device known as the “DRT” was used to record driver reaction time in response to triggers of red and green lights added to their field of vision.
* A special electroencephalographic (EEG)-configured skull cap was used to chart participants’ brain activity so that researchers could determine mental workload.
Using research protocols borrowed from aviation psychology and a variety of performance metrics, the drivers did tasks such as listening to an audio book, talking on the phone, and listening and responding to voice-activated emails while behind the wheel.
Researchers used the results to rate the levels of mental distraction drivers experienced while performing each of the tasks.
Tasks such as listening to the radio ranked as a category “1” level of distraction or a minimal risk.
Talking on a cellphone, both handheld and hands-free, resulted in a “2” or a moderate risk.
Listening and responding to in-vehicle, voice-activated email features increased mental workload and distraction levels of the drivers to a “3” rating or one of extensive risk.
“These findings reinforce previous research that hands-free is not risk-free,” AAA Foundation President and CEO Peter Kissinger said in a statement. “Increased mental workload and cognitive distractions can lead to a type of tunnel vision or inattention blindness where motorists don’t see potential hazards right in front of them.”
Based on its research, AAA is asking the automotive industry to explore:
* Limiting use of voice-activated technology to core driving-related activities such as climate control, windshield wipers and cruise control, and to ensure these applications do not lead to increased safety risk due to mental distraction while the car is moving.
* Disabling certain functionalities of voice-to-text technologies such as using social media or interacting with email and text messages so that they are inoperable while the vehicle is in motion.
* Educating vehicle owners and mobile device users about the responsible use and safety risks for in-vehicle technologies.
AAA also wants to use its findings to start a discussion with policy makers, safety advocates and the auto industry about the new in-vehicle technologies.
AAA said that it has already met with safety advocates and provided copies of the report to CEOs of all major U.S. automakers.
“This study constitutes the most in-depth analysis to date of mental distractions behind the wheel,” Darbelnet said. “AAA is hopeful that it will serve as a stepping stone toward working in collaboration with automakers to promote our shared goal of improving safety for all drivers. Specifically, these increasingly common voice-driven, in-vehicle technologies should be limited to use for just core driving tasks unless the activity results in no significant driver distraction.”