Some of their features available on modern infotainment systems are supposed to relieve the driver of having to deal with certain chore while at the helm.
Voice command activation is supposed to be one of them. Instead of taking his eyes off the road to find some little knob or a button or fiddle with a multi-controller, he can keep his eyes on the road and hands upon the wheel (pun intended…) and just talk to his in-car device or hooked-up smartphone.
Not all is at seems, or rather sounds, says a study conducted for the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. The findings, after testing the voice activated systems of ten 2015MY cars on 257 drivers and three smartphones on 65 drivers, show that even after ending the use of hands-free features there is a distraction period of up to 27 seconds.
“The lasting effects of mental distraction pose a hidden and pervasive danger that would likely come as a surprise to most drivers”, said Peter Kissinger, President and CEO of the AAA. “The results indicate that motorists could miss stop signs, pedestrians and other vehicles while the mind is readjusting to the task of driving.”
The researchers, University of Utah professors David Streyer and Joel Cooper, used a mental distraction scale of 1-5; the higher the number, the higher the danger. While driving, Category 1 distractions are, says the AAA, similar to listening to the radio and Category 5 to taking a challenging test! Any rating above 2 is considered potentially dangerous.
Of the vehicles tested, none scored a 2 and only three managed to slip past the 3 mark, which indicates a “moderate distraction” level. The Chevrolet Equinox and Buick LaCrosse tied in first position, with a 2.4, followed by the Toyota 4Runner (2.9).
The Ford Taurus, Chevrolet Malibu, VW Passat, Nissan Altima, Chrysler 200C and Hyundai Sonata all scored between 3 and 4, while the Mazda6 was the poorest performer with 4.6.
Streyer commented that a driver can spend anywhere between 15 and 27 seconds after he has stopped using the device trying to process the information he/she has received. “That information was lost while they were talking”, he explained, with the AAA pointing out that in 27 seconds, even at a mere 25 mph, a car covers a distance equal to three football fields.