voice-control cell phone in car

Technology has become so mobile that we bring it everywhere we go, including behind the wheel of our cars. Thus, the cell phone in our pocket has become the main target of anti-distracted driving advocates, as making and taking phone calls while driving, as well as texting, have arisen as legitimate distractions from the task of driving.

One solution automakers have been developing over time would have us using your voice to control technologies in the car, the assumption being that you're much safer performing a task in the car if yours hands are on the wheel and your eyes on the road. That assumption, however, might not be true according to a recent study by the American Automobile Association, aka AAA.

The researchers behind the study, which is titled Measuring Cognitive Distraction in the Automobile, developed a standard metric by which they could rate and compare the level of cognitive distraction while performing certain tasks while driving. The results showed that while talking to a passenger, using a hand-held phone and making a hands-free phone call all created similar levels of cognitive distraction, using a text-to-speech system to send a text or email actually ranked higher on the scale. Indeed, the text-to-speech task ranked high enough to be classified as a Category-3 level of distraction, whereas the others were all classified Category-2.

The researchers remarked, "The assumption that if the eyes were on the road and the hands were on the steering wheel then voice-based interactions would be safe appears to be unwarranted. Simply put, hands-free does not mean risk-free." They go on to warn their findings apply equally to any voice-based interaction with a vehicle, not just speech-to-text systems. So behaviors we've already become accustomed to, like asking SYNC to play an artist or iDrive to set the navigation's destination to home, could be more distracting than holding our smartphones up to our ears.