• Feb 6, 2009
Ford has been winning sales with SYNC, but the infotainment interface may also save lives. We already knew that SYNC, when sync'd up with a Bluetooth-enabled phone, can call 911 for you in the event of an accident. Now, a report from the Blue Oval contends that SYNC can help prevent a collision from happening in the first place. Studies show that talking on the phone while driving can quadruple your chances of an accident, but with SYNC, drivers spend less time with their eyes off the road. The numbers speak for themselves. The SYNC user using voice commands averages two seconds with their eyes off the road, while someone interacting directly with their phone or MP3 player can be distracted for 25 seconds during a commute.

Ford tested 25 participants with typical infotainment tasks like dialing a ten-digit number, calling a specific person from the digital phone book, receiving a call while driving, playing a specific song, and reviewing and responding to text messages. Ford researchers measured total eyes-off-the-road time, deviation of lane position, speed variability, and object detection response time to identify differences in attentiveness and driving performance while using basic functions. SYNC-using drivers never swerved out of their lane, while others meandered 30% of the time. Ford's complete press release is available after the jump.

PRESS RELEASE:

STUDY: FORD SYNC™ REDUCES DRIVING DISTRACTIONS, HELPS DRIVERS KEEP EYES ON ROAD

* New Ford study shows significant differences in distraction levels for voice-controlled interfaces such as Ford SYNC™ compared to visually and manually operated handheld cell phones and music players.
* SYNC's new 911 Assist feature adds post-crash emergency assistance while new traffic updates, directions and related driving information helps drivers save time and fuel while reducing distractions.
* Ford helped lead the industry's development of voluntary guidelines to limit driver distraction from in-vehicle telematics and infotainment systems.

DEARBORN, Feb. 4, 2009 – A new study shows that Ford's SYNC hands-free system significantly reduces the level of distraction when drivers select a phone number or choose a song on their MP3 player compared with the same operations with hand-held cell phones and music players.

For example, the research conducted by Ford Motor Company shows study participants spent an average of 25 seconds with their eyes-off-the-road to select a song with a handheld MP3 player compared with 2 seconds for those choosing a song using SYNC.

Ford recently completed a driving simulator study with 25 participants who are regular SYNC users to compare driver performance and eye glance behavior effects of tasks performed using SYNC's voice interface as compared to using nomadic devices with visual-manual interfaces.

Test participants performed seven typical tasks using SYNC's voice interface and their personal handheld phones and music players. The tasks included dialing a 10-digit number, calling a specific person from the digital phonebook, receiving a call while driving, playing a specific song, and reviewing and responding to text messages. For each task, Ford researchers measured total eyes-off-the-road time, deviation of lane position, speed variability, and object detection response time to identify differences in attentiveness and driving performance while using basic functions.

"We know people want to stay connected in their vehicles, so Ford is continuing to deliver that connectivity for them responsibly and safely," says Susan Cischke, Ford's group vice president of Sustainability, Environment and Safety Engineering. "Our SYNC research backs up what most of us instinctively know – that it is better while driving to place a call using a voice interface than dialing manually, because you can keep your hands on the wheel and eyes on the road."

Ford's researchers found that distraction potential for most tasks was significantly minimized when the SYNC voice interface was used as compared to the manual-entry required for handheld devices. For example, reading a text message on a handheld phone typically took the driver's eyes off the road for 11 seconds compared to about 2 seconds when listening to the text message with SYNC's text-to-speech output. Drivers also meandered over lane lines in more than 30 percent of trials using handheld phones and music players for song, artist, and phone book contact selection, as compared to zero percent when performing those same tasks with SYNC.

Ford's study results are consistent with prior research, such as Virginia Tech and the U.S. Department of Transportation's recent driving study, which followed 109 drivers for one year, including 42,300 hours of driving over two million miles. That study concluded that manually dialing a handheld device -- a task that requires looks away from the road -- while driving was almost 2.8 times riskier than normal driving. However, the on-the-road study showed that talking/listening on a phone while driving was no riskier than normal driving.

"These real-world results indicate that SYNC's voice-interface offers substantial advantages compared to using a handheld device to do the same task," says Dr. Louis Tijerina, Ford senior technical specialist.

SYNC success soars
SYNC, which recently earned Popular Mechanics' Editor's Choice Award for best new products at the 2009 International Consumer Electronics Show, allows consumers to connect almost any mobile phone or digital media player with their vehicle (via Bluetooth or USB connection). The driver is able to operate them by using voice commands and a steering wheel-mounted control.

The success of SYNC continues to grow. By summer 2009, Ford's entire North American lineup will offer this technology with more than 1 million SYNC-equipped vehicles on the road by the third quarter of 2009.

Ford, working with the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, helped develop guidelines for new telematics and infotainment systems. The voluntary guidelines set limits to the eyes-off-road time required to complete visual-manual tasks. Even though SYNC is a voice-based system, its visual-manual components covered by the Alliance guidelines were tested to ensure they meet the distraction requirements.

"Ford is committed to addressing driver distraction research and testing, and implementing our findings in safety and advanced infotainment systems throughout our vehicle lines," says John Shutko, Ford technical specialist in Human Factors and Ergonomics. "We know that customers are increasingly using telematics devices while driving their vehicles and studies show voice-activated systems like SYNC offer significant safety benefits over hand-held manual devices. If people are going to use nomadic devices, Ford Motor Company wants to offer our customers a safer way to use them, through SYNC."

SYNC gets more safety, fuel-saving, distraction reducing features
Ford is expanding its connectivity leadership by introducing SYNC's new 911 Assist feature that adds post-crash emergency assistance, and new traffic updates, directions and related driving information to help drivers save time and fuel while reducing distraction.

SYNC's new "911 Assist" feature will help drivers connect with emergency assistance in the event of an air-bag deployment. When a phone is properly paired, turned on and connected to SYNC – which is designed to happen every time the driver enters the vehicle with his or her cell phone – the system will be ready to assist in placing a call to a local 911 emergency operator should an air bag-deploying accident occur.

"With SYNC, and specifically with the 911 Assist feature, we will be providing our customers an extra layer of security and peace of mind," Cischke says.

Ford's next-generation SYNC with Traffic, Directions and Information features leverages industry-leading voice-recognition software, integrated GPS and Bluetooth-capable phones. Debuting this spring, it will provide simple hands-free access to personalized traffic reports, precise driving directions and up-to-date information including business listings, news, sports and weather.

Customers won't have to spend significant time with eyes off the road and hands off the wheel searching for this information on their radios, maps or other telematic devices. Driving safety can be improved when customers can retrieve this information quickly and efficiently using simple voice commands.

The new services will be available on nearly all 2010 Ford, Lincoln and Mercury models with no initial monthly subscription fees, thanks to three years of service included with a new vehicle purchase.


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  • 22 Comments
      • 5 Years Ago
      Sounds like a product shill, especially with Ford, Motorola and Microsoft (Zune) all featured in a single photograph.

      Nevertheless there is alot to be said for control of devices through voice or steering wheel buttons. The aux jack is really a dangerous tool since navigating most MP3 players while driving is really risky.

      What could prove interesting is if automakers and electronics manufacturers agree on a standard interface protocol which would allow all portable devices to be operated from any vehicle's infotainment controls - either via usb or wirelessly.

      Its nice I can buy a Ford and control a Zune, or a BMW and control an iPod. How long til I can buy any car and control any device? Or will the device you choose limit the cars you can interface with?
        • 5 Years Ago
        Ha, sorry, I see someone else already replied.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Where do you get that Ford lets you only control a Zune?

        Sync lets you use any USB device (there are limits of course) that has media on it and play it through the system. I use my iPhone with it all the time. I connect it to my Fusion using the USB cable. Sync connects to the iPhone's bluetooth, and then plays music through the USB. It also charges the phone, and a passenger can use the other features of the phone (games, internet browsing, etc), while Sync plays music.

        The only limits to what devices can be used is if you have a player that has unusual connection methods (weird directory structure or something, made to only work with certain software/hardware) and the Sync isn't yet compatible with it.

        I suggest doing some reading on the system before making judgments.
        • 5 Years Ago
        You can control your Zune, IPod, or even a USB thumb drive with SYNC, you can also use most cell phones. They have thought this one through.
      • 5 Years Ago
      I think this study misses the point. Clearly having SYNC do your calling and music searching is safer then doing it without SYNC (e.g. dialing yourself, searching through the playlist on your MP3 player). However currently I don’t place calls while in my vehicle. If I had SYNC, then I might. Currently I don’t search through my playlist on my music. If I had SYNC I might. Does that effect outweigh the safety gains of making it easier? My personal guess is no. I’ve seen plenty of people calling and dialing on cell phones while driving that I think it’s a problem with or without SYNC. SYNC just mitigates those risks.
        • 5 Years Ago
        consider this then, you're driving and somebody hits you. you're unconscious and your kid or spouse is 15 minutes away from death or permanent injury. Would you rather have sync call the cops after the accident or should your family wait for you to wake up to make the call?
      • 5 Years Ago
      Ford’s study results are consistent with prior research, such as Virginia Tech and the U.S. Department of Transportation’s recent driving study, which followed 109 drivers for one year. That study concluded that manually dialing a handheld device while driving was almost 2.8 times riskier than normal driving. However, the on-the-road study showed that talking/listening on a phone while driving was no riskier than normal driving.

      The government compiled different research at http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/staticfiles/DOT/NHTSA/NRD/Multimedia/PDFs/Crash%20Avoidance/2008/DOT-HS-810-704.pdf

      Wes Sherwood
      Ford Communications
      wsherwoo@ford.com
      • 5 Years Ago
      Ford and a Zune. Failures do go hand in hand.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Oh, God, Jubei... I could have sworn you were restricted to Engadget or something. Now you've come to pollute the Autoblog comment section with your filth. What's next, Joystiq? You'll have a lot to hate about that place- I mean, what with the Xbox 360 being one of the main topics around there.
      • 5 Years Ago
      THis differs from other voice dialed stuff how? Heck my att fuze has perfect voice dialing and other voice commands also.
      • 5 Years Ago
      I agree with Sync helping with concentration. In some situations more than others for sure. Although its ability to do this is limited to what the phone is capable of, Sync is able to read Text messages to you, and has pre-set replies you can send back. Much better than all these damn people trying to type out text messages while driving.

      If you are listening to a song and someone asks who the artist is, etc, instead of messing with the radio, just say "What is playing?" and it reads off Artist, Album, Song Title, etc.

      They covered things really well with this system. It plays playlists, lets you browse songs, and a lot more. I hate answering phones while talking, but if its something real important, its nice to still be able to have both hands on the wheel, and its easy to just not listen to the conversation if things get bad. Much easier than having a big phone to your ear blocking some of your vision and not having your other hand.

      Now that I have the system, I don't want a vehicle without it.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Except your fuze wont call the cops for you immediately after the airbags deploy. If you're lucky enough to get to your phone and make the call within a minute after the accident then good for you. But i'd rather not take that chance.

        • 5 Years Ago
        Amen. Sync V2 FTW!
        • 5 Years Ago
        Yes but that does not make the car safer. Besides that i can have my fuze play somngs by voice, make calls by voice , start the tom tom software and get directions by voice.

        This is just ford advertising nothing more. Combine my phone with say onstar and it does the same thing.
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