Study Finds Siri Not So Safe

Friday, 10 October 2014
by Natalie O'Driscoll

While three out of four drivers believe that hands free technology is safe to use in a vehicle, a recent study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found the opposite:  The risk of distraction to drivers utilising voice-activated systems is among the highest of all technologies tested, with Siri falling into the highest risk category.

In the most comprehensive study of its kind to date, Doctor David Strayer and researchers from the University of Utah measured cognitive distraction in drivers while using voice-activated technologies to conduct a range of both driving related and social tasks.

The study utilised:

Mounted in-vehicle cameras which recorded eye and head movement of drivers;
A response detector to record driver reaction time; 
An EEG-configured skull cap which measured the mental workload of the drivers; and
Heart monitors.

Tasks and software were then evaluated and ranked on a five-category system, with a rank of five being the highest level of distraction.  When combined with the results of similar research conducted the previous year, the study contained some surprising results:

Category 1: Listening to the radio.
Category 2: Talking on a hand held OR hands-free mobile phone; using in-vehicle technology to listen to messages.
Category 3: Composing text message and emails using error-free speech-to-text systems.
Category 4: Hands and eyes-free use of Apple’s Siri on a range of tasks.

The study found that systems which are currently marketed by manufacturers as safety tools actually created more cognitive distraction and therefore higher risk of road trauma, as opposed to less.  

“These findings reinforced previous research that hands-free is not risk-free,” said AAA Foundation President and CEO Peter Kissinger.  

“Increased mental workload and cognitive distractions can lead to a type of tunnel vision or inattention blindness where motorists don’t see potential hazards right in front of them.”

Fortunately, the study also found that it is definitely possible to create technology which is less distracting, a necessity in a world where the use of gadgets in daily activities is only increasing.  The AAA has advised that it plans to work with developers in order to create safer technologies for road users.

Peter Kissinger, President of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety said the impact on road safety can be based on the task or system the driver is using.

“It’s clear that not all voice systems are created equal,” he said.  

“AAA is confident that it will be possible to make safer systems in the future.”

Established by AAA in 1947, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety is a not-for-profit, publicly-supported charitable educational and research organisation. Dedicated to saving lives and reducing injuries on our roads, the Foundation’s mission is to prevent crashes and save lives through research and education about traffic safety.  You can view the full report here.

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