Don’t drive and Siri: voice activated devices are more distracting than you’d think

You probably don’t dial and drive and PLEASE tell me you don’t text, but you might think that using Siri or Cortana (or, if you’re fancy, the car’s in-built voice controls) isn’t a big deal. Turns out, it’s one of the biggest distractions there is. New research by the University of Utah for the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that talking to your car or your iPhone while driving is far more dangerous than chatting to someone next to you.

The researchers conducted a couple of studies that confirmed this. They asked almost 200 volunteers to call, text, tune the radio, and other tasks using voice-activated systems while they drove in a simulator and on real roads (with someone supervising their safety, thank goodness). Their reaction times were monitored and recorded on video.

In the first study, they found that making phone calls and tuning the radio using a voice-activated in-car system was a distraction, with most systems even more distracting than picking up a phone only (only Toyota and Hyundai were off the hook). In the second, they used Siri to send and read texts, post social media messages, and check the calendar. They found that even when the system was modified so that drivers didn’t need to touch or look at the device once, it was more distracting than any other type of voice activated technology.

The problem is that voice-activated technology doesn’t always work as directed – by not recognising commands, for example (perhaps you’ve heard about it), and that in-car systems can be complicated to use. This usually gets easier as people and machines adjust to each other, but there’s plenty of time to get into a six-car pile-up before then.

But it’s not all bad news: the researchers hope that their evidence will encourage car manufacturers to make their systems easier to use in future. Study leader David Strayer says, ‘The reality is these systems are here to stay. Given that, let’s make the technology as safe as possible with the goal of making it no more distracting than listening to the radio.’

Image credit: © Dan Campbell/AAA 2014.

Want to read more? If you’re looking to buy a wearable or activity tracker, we’ve found the best wearables to keep you safe, but, if they’re too expensive, here are the best budget wearables and activity trackers for under £70.

If you’re not bothered by wearables at all, but still want help with keeping fit, check out our feature on 10 kitchen gadgets, tools and utensils for healthy living.

Diane Shipley