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Distraction study: A look at voice-activated devices

Many new vehicles come equipped with voice activated technology, which is designed to minimize distractions that people face while driving in Tennessee and across the country. This technology allows drivers to accomplish certain tasks, such as dialing a phone number, texting or even switching the radio station, just by talking. While studies show that cognitive distractions from texting and talking on hand-held and hands free cellphones can increase a driver’s risk of becoming involved in an accident, further studies show that voice-activated technology presents certain dangers as well.

A study published by AAA looked at whether voice-activated systems really decreased driver distraction or actually acted as a diversion. Researchers measured the amount of mental workload participants experienced while performing several tasks using voice-activated technology. These tasks included the following:

  •          Adding and modifying appointments on a calendar
  •          Changing the radio station and playing a CD
  •          Composing email and text messages
  •          Dialing a 10-digit phone number
  •          Listening to email and text messages read by a synthetic voice and a natural human voice
  •          Updating social media statuses

Participants’ reaction time, heart rate and personal assessments were evaluated in order to determine the level of cognitive distraction they experienced while behind the wheel. Interestingly enough, the results indicated that all of the tasks were distracting to drivers on some level. However, flaws in certain systems led to an even higher level of cognitive distraction. For example, when the voice device did not recognize the driver’s command, the driver often became more distracted.

According to, cognitive impairment is just one of three types of distractions that contributes to serious motor vehicle accidents. Although the introduction of hands-free and voice-activated technology hoped to limit driver distraction, studies show that these devices may present unintended distractions. Researchers suggest that once this technology is fine-tuned, it could actually improve driver safety. 

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