Voice-Activated Technology Represents Looming Public Safety Crisis, Study Says


  • 2013 Chevrolet Sonic Picture

    2013 Chevrolet Sonic Picture

    The 2013 Chevrolet Sonic is an example of a mainstream car with voice-activated technology. | June 13, 2013

2 Photos

Just the Facts:
  • A new AAA study condemns voice-activated systems that allow drivers to keep their hands on the wheel and eyes on the road, saying the in-car technology presents "new and potentially dangerous mental distractions built into cars."
  • The study draws a line in the sand between safety advocates and the auto industry.
  • "There is a looming public safety crisis ahead with the future proliferation of these in-vehicle technologies," said Robert L. Darbelnet, AAA president and CEO, in a statement.

AURORA, Illinois — A new AAA study condemns voice-activated systems that allow drivers to keep their hands on the wheel and eyes on the road, saying the in-car technology presents "new and potentially dangerous mental distractions built into cars."

The study draws a line in the sand between safety advocates and the auto industry. AAA's strident position against in-car technologies may alienate consumers who are insisting on connectivity in their vehicles as well.

AAA wants to limit voice-activated technology to "core driving-related activities such as climate control, windshield wipers and cruise control." It is calling for the disabling of some voice-to-text technologies, such as using social media or interacting with e-mail and text messages while the vehicle is in motion.

"There is a looming public safety crisis ahead with the future proliferation of these in-vehicle technologies," said Robert L. Darbelnet, AAA president and CEO, 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."

The National Safety Council praised the AAA study, saying: "the human brain is incapable of performing, at the same time, the tasks necessary to safely operate a motor vehicle while engaged in other cognitively demanding tasks such as a phone conversation or speech to text."

New cars are rapidly being equipped with technology that enables the driver to send e-mails, texts, update Facebook and order a pizza with voice commands.

The 2013 Chevrolet Spark and Chevrolet Sonic LTZ and RS models are just two examples of inexpensive, mainstream cars that GM touts for their hands-free systems. In February, GM integrated Apple's voice-activated Siri software into its Chevy MyLink smartphone-based infotainment system. Customers with a compatible iPhone running iOS 6 can direct Siri to perform tasks "while they safely keep their eyes on the road and their hands on the wheel," said GM on its Web site.

But AAA's study said that voice-activated technologies still result in slowed reaction time.

"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 pedestrians," AAA said.

The federal government is pushing automakers to voluntarily limit the technology in cars to avoid driver distraction.

Edmunds says: The battle lines are being drawn in the fight against distracted driving.

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