Distracted Driving Accidents Caused by Voice-Activated Devices in Cars


Voice-activated devices are among the high tech safety options offered in new vehicles. These hands-free devices allow drivers to make phone calls, compose or “read” text messages, post to social media, get driving directions and do other tasks without taking their hands off the wheel. Many drivers believe that using voice-activated devices reduces the risk of distracted driving and allows them to multi-task safely.

While hands-free and voice-activated devices in cars were developed to minimize distracted driving, recent studies conducted by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety have revealed that the opposite may be true. Talking to your car through a voice-activated device may be equally dangerous as driving while using a handheld device, texting and driving, or engaging in any other type of activity while operating a vehicle. In some instances using a voice-activated device could actually increase the risk of being involved in a distracted driving accident.

Why Talking to Your Car Can Often Be So Distracting

The reason talking to your car can often be so distracting is that many of these newer systems are complicated to operate. A voice-activated in-vehicle dialing system may appear to be a great idea for improving safety. But if the system is too complex, the level of mental distraction may be higher than simply using your cell phone to make a call.

Reaching for your phone does require you to take your eyes off the road and your hands off the wheel. However a complex voice-activated system can create a situation in which a driver has tunnel vision or what is termed “inattention blindness.” Drivers may be so intent on getting an in-vehicle device to operate that they lose the ability to observe what is happening around them.

Most Distracting In-Vehicle Devices and Features

In a joint study, researchers with the University of Utah and AAA rated a variety of vehicle infotainment systems for driver distraction based on a 5-point system. The ratings, ranked from most distracting to least, are as follows:

  • Chevrolet’s MyLink – 3.7
  • Mercedes’ COMMAND System – 3.1
  • Ford SYNC with MyFord Touch System – 3.0
  • Chrysler’s UConnect System – 2.7
  • Hyundai’s Blue Link Telematics System – 2.2
  • Toyota’s Entune – 1.7

Voice-activated or hands-free tasks were also rated from most distracting to least, and are listed here:

  • Using Apple’s Siri (iOS 7)
  • Using an “error-prone” or complex voice command menu system to navigate
  • Using a hands-free device to listen or to compose emails and texts
  • Navigating by using simple in-vehicle or error-free voice menus
  • Listening to messages played by a computerized or naturally recorded voice
  • Using basic commands to adjust the radio or temperature

How to Limit the Distractions of In-Vehicle Technology

These studies do not mean there is no future for voice-activated or hands-free devices. It simply means manufacturers need to discover a way to make these devices simpler to use and reduce the possibility of error for the driver. Drivers who want to limit the distractions caused by in-vehicle technology are advised to:

  • Take the time to read the vehicle’s manual and practice using voice-activated features before attempting to use these features while driving;
  • Eliminate the risk entirely by turning off your cell phone and leaving it off for the duration of your trip;
  • Wait until you have reached your destination before checking emails, sending messages or posting to social media accounts.

Drivers need to give their full attention to the road ahead. The most effective way to protect yourself and your passengers is to eliminate all forms of driver distraction, including any voice-activated features in your vehicle.

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