Hands-free voice commands still distracting for drivers, study finds

A new AAA study says using voice commands to send text messages and emails from behind the wheel, which is marketed as a safer alternative for drivers, actually is more distracting and dangerous than simply using a cell phone.

Automakers have been trying to excite new-car buyers, especially younger ones, with dashboard infotainment systems that let drivers use voice commands to perform things like turning on windshield wipers, posting Facebook messages or ordering pizza. The pitch has been that hands-free devices are safer because they enable drivers to keep their hands on the wheel and their eyes on the road.

But researchers found that hands-free phone talking isn't significantly safer than talking on a hand-held phone, and using hands-free devices that translate speech into text is the most distracting of all.

Results are from a AAA study conducted at the University of Utah. It shows that distractions increase as mental workload increases, according to AAA.

â??This research is of critical importance because often the assumption is that hands-free features reduce visual and manual distractions. This misconception could unintentionally provide motorists with a false sense of security when it comes to their safety behind the wheel,â?? said Tony Spada, President and CEO of AAA Western and Central New York.

John Guth has a pop up computer in his SUV but says he avoids using it as he drives around Central New York.

"If there's something there to look at, it's humanistic - you're going to look at it- and at that thirty seconds, twenty seconds, five seconds - whatever they break it down to - you're in trouble," said Guth.

AAA is now urging the automotive and electronics industries to limit the use of voice-activated technology, disable certain functionalities of voice-to-text technologies, and educate drivers about the responsible use and safety risks for these technologies.


inda O'Connell has a simpler solution. When she drove to the Liverpool farmer's market, she left her cell phone in the backseat of the car.

"I think you should leave it where you can't even get it. When you get to your destination, if it's that important someone will leave a message," said O'Connell.

(Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.)