Voice-activated technology risky while driving

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In an attempt to make it safer to stay connected while driving, automakers have developed voice-activated systems that allow drivers to do everything from text to update Facebook pages while driving. Although the argument made by automobile companies is that this system is safer because it is hands-free, a new study suggests otherwise. In fact, Dr. David Strayer, a neuroscientist at the University of Utah, and colleagues found that these systems cause drivers to be more distracted, as compared to talking on a hand-held or hands-free phone or listening to the radio or a book on tape.

Researchers had participants perform a variety of different tasks while driving. As a control, they had participants perform the tasks while stationary. Tasks included listening to the radio, listening to a book on tape, having a conversation with a passenger, having a conversation on a hand-held phone, having a conversation on a hands-free phone and using the speech-to-text voice activated system. Performance was measured using eye-scanning technology to see where drivers were looking, as well as through tools used to measure electrical activity in the brain. What they found was that the speech-to-text task caused a higher level of cognitive distraction, as well as lower levels of activity in the areas of the brain known to be activated while driving. Although researchers do not have a clear explanation for their findings, they believe that it may have to do with the amount of effort required to talk to the dashboard, which is greater than talking to a person, who can interrupt and ask for clarification.

Dr. Strayer believes that automakers should reconsider the voice-activated systems they are putting in cars. Look at new cars; they re enabling sending e-mails, sending text, tweeting, updating Facebook, making movie or dinner reservations with voice commands. The assumption is if you re doing those things with speech-based technology, they ll be safe. But they re not.

ACSH s Ariel Savransky had this to say. This study should serve as a wake-up call for people who use these voice-activated systems while driving. People don t realize that these tasks that have become second nature to them texting, e-mailing, using social media are actually very dangerous while driving, even when both hands are on the wheel. There s no reason why that text or e-mail can t wait until you get home. And if something is really urgent, take five minutes and pull over to the side of the road.