AAA Urges Drivers to Stop Using Speech

New research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety and the University of Utah found that speech technologies in the car are not without their risks.

According to the research—which measured brainwaves, eye movements, and reaction times to evaluate drivers' mental workloads as they used voice technologies for performing tasks like listening to and responding to email, text messages, and social media posts behind the wheel—concluded that reaction time slows, brain function is compromised, and drivers miss visual cues, like stop signs and pedestrians, even when using hands-free devices.

The study also categorized the level of risk associated with certain activities. Listening to the radio was identified as category 1, with a minimal risk. Talking on a cell-phone was a 2, with moderate risk. Listening and responding to in-vehicle voice-activated email features was categorized as a 3, or an extensive risk.

"These findings reinforce previous research that hands-free is not risk-free," said AAA Foundation President and CEO Peter Kissinger, in a statement. "Increased mental workload and cognitive distractions can lead to a type of tunnel vision or inattention blindness where motorists don't see potential hazards right in front of them."

Based on these findings, AAA is urging the public to avoid speech technologies behind the wheel, and is urging auto and in-car infotainment system manufacturers to limit voice-activated technology to only core driving-related functions, such as setting the temperature, turning on the windshield wipers, or engaging cruise control. In addition, they recommend disabling voice-to-text for social media, email, and text messaging while the car is in motion.

AAA also hopes to stem the tide of in-car infotainment systems, which it says are on pace to increase five-fold by 2018. "There is a looming public safety crisis ahead with the future proliferation of these in-vehicle technologies," said AAA President and CEO Robert Darbelnet, in the 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."

AAA also is using the findings to promote dialogue with policy makers and safety advocates throughout the country on the federal, state, and local levels.

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