As automakers search for ways to make in-car connectivity safer for drivers, more vehicles are coming equipped with voice-to-text features, though AAA doesn’t agree that these systems are making our cars safer.
A study conducted by the University of Utah over two years shows that text-to-speech systems are roughly as distracting as talking on a handheld cell phone. To come to these results, 150 different subjects wore brain sensors while driving, during which they were asked to complete six different tasks: changing the radio station, listening to a book-on-tape, having a conversation with a passenger, using a handheld cell phone, using a cell phone with a hands-free device, and sending an email with voice-to-text software.
To test reaction times, a headset was worn by each subject that showed either a red or green light at the side of their vision. Depending on the color, a corresponding button had to pressed on the steering wheel while the drivers were preforming the different tasks. Results show that drivers were equally as slow reacting when they were talking on a handheld cell phone as they were while using text-to-speech.
AAA is asking that automakers regulate in-car systems like text-to-speech, and keep voice controls limited to basic car operations such as cruise control, windshield wiper control and HVAC controls.
However, even David Strayer, the psychology professor at the University of Utah who led the research project, says that the study did not definitively prove that text-to-speech is dangerous, as the researchers did not study how well drivers preformed driving tasks, or how often they got into crashes while using the systems. Rather, the study proves to drivers that hands-free systems can still be very distracting, and should be used sparingly.