Distracted by Voice Commands?

In order to combat distracted driving, car manufacturers have begun outfitting their vehicles with voice-activated infotainment systems. But do these systems really protect us from distracted driving?

Well, according to a recent report from AAA, there’s certainly room for improvement. Ultimately, they concluded that:

“Common voice tasks are generally more demanding than natural conversations, listening to the radio, or listening to a book on tape.”

Some relevant tidbits:

  • The accuracy of the voice recognition significantly impacts the level of distraction. Low accuracy = high distraction.
  • Composing outgoing text messages and e-mails via voice was more distracting than using the system to listen to incoming messages.
  • The voice quality of the system had no impact on distraction — natural and synthetic voices were equally distracting.

I was also interested to learn that these systems aren’t all created equally. Indeed, Toyota’s Entune system was judged to be the least distracting of all systems tested, at least when it comes to simple tasks like radio tuning and voice dialing. In contrast, Chevy’s MyLink was the most distracting.

They also separately assessed Apple’s Siri for tasks like using social media, sending text messages, and updating your calendar. And guess what? They found it to be quite distracting. This wasn’t very surprising given the tasks they undertook, but it also suggests that CarPlay won’t be a cure-all.

My thoughts

I’m not particularly surprised about their overall findings, though I would have liked to have seen them do more. For example, while it might be distracting to change the radio station or dictate a text message, how does the distraction level compare to doing these tasks by hand?

I am, however, surprised that the Entune system performed so well, as I have found the voice commands to be quite frustrating. That being said, I don’t usually use it for simple tasks. Rather, I’ve mostly tried using it to do things like setting a GPS destination while en route.

In case you weren’t aware, once your Highlander is in motion, you’re locked out of changing GPS-related settings by hand. Instead, you’re required to use voice commands. And let’s just say that the voice recognition on this front is… Hmmm, how shall I put this? Not so good.

At the very least, I wish Toyota would enable the GPS touchscreen when there’s a passenger in the front seat. It would be far less distracting to have my wife set a destination manually vs. having either one of us struggle through the voice-activated system.

What do you think? Are voice-command systems a step in the right direction? Or do they simply encourage drivers to engage in activities that might take their attention off the road? Either way, is Toyota’s Entune as good as the results of this study suggest?

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Technology & Infotainment
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