10/8/2014 | 1 MINUTE READ

Study: Voice Controls as Distracting as Buttons

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The mental load of using voice-activated controls in a car is at least as great as operating buttons controls and touchscreens, according to research commissioned by auto services group AAA.

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The mental load of using voice-activated controls in a car is at least as great as operating buttons controls and touchscreens, according to research commissioned by auto services group AAA.

The study tested the mental strain of in-car voice control systems from Apple (Siri), Chevrolet (MyLink), Ford (Sync) and Toyota (Entune). Toyota's system earned the lowest strain rating; Chevrolet's received the highest.

Researchers at the University of Utah used a driving simulator to measure the cognitive load on drivers on a five-point scale. The testing involved using voice controls to send text messages, make calendar notations and post messages on Facebook.

Subjects averaged a score of four, which was higher than when adjusting the radio or talking on a handheld cell phone. In three cases, subjects had a virtual crash while using voice-activated controls.

Psychology Professor David Strayer, who led the study, tells Automotive News the results show features that enable drivers to keep their eyes on the road aren't enough. Says Strayer, "You need to be paying attention to what you're looking at."

Carmakers caution that the study focused only on cognitive load, one of several contributors to driver distraction. They tell AN that their voice activated controls continue to improve, and the current systems are better than those evaluated in the AAA study.