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Safety experts disagree on whether voice controls are really an improvement

Posted on Tuesday, April 3rd, 2012

Despite proposing guidelines for in-car technology back in February, The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration doesn’t plan to address voice controls until at least 2014. However, in the meantime, some safety experts are suggesting that voice controls may be almost as dangerous as cell phone use.

One expert, currently doing research on cognitive distraction, says voice controls, “have promise,” but are “far from distraction-free.” And, Auto Alliance spokesman Wade Newton points out the obvious fact that, “hands on the wheel and eyes on the road isn’t safe if the mind is not on the drive.” But, since regulating someone’s level of attention is absolutely impossible, voice controls do at least remove the tactile distraction of fidgeting with a mobile device.

Although voice controls are currently considered an “unsettled area of research,” there’s plenty of evidence that banning the use of handheld devices has reduced the number of fatal car accidents. Still, as you can see from the list of the most common causes of distracted driving, cell phones are just one offender. As researchers are suggesting with voice controls, anything that demands additional attention can potentially distract drivers from focusing their attention on the road.

It will be interesting to see how research progresses when it comes to measuring the effects using voice controls have on a vehicle’s driver. Based on the increasing expectations consumers have for being able to complete various tasks while in transit, it seems unlikely automakers would be willing to take a step back and reconsider these sort of features regardless of how the research plays out. Either way, no matter what the technology, the final onus is still on the driver to pay attention and be safe.

As long as there are passengers in the car, commercials on the radio, coffee mugs in the cup holders, or even voice controls, drivers will always have some level of distraction. All you can do is hope drivers handle these distractions responsibly and remember that if they’re not careful, even a single mistake has the potential to be catastrophic.


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