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Study: voice-controlled interfaces unsafe for driving

Mel Martin

I asked, "Siri: Is it safe to be driving and talking to you?" Siri conducted a web search and probably won't be pleased with the results. In a recent AAA study, researchers found that letting drivers text and send email with voice commands is actually more distracting just simply talking on a cellphone.

"Compared to other activities studied, we found that interacting with the speech-to-text system was the most cognitively distracting," wrote the researchers. "This clearly suggests that the adoption of voice-based systems in the vehicle may have unintended consequences that adversely affect traffic safety."

The research is sure to have criticism. A study (PDF download) by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that hand-held phone use was less safe than hands-free, but that study didn't measure text-to-speech features.

Not surprisingly, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers was skeptical. "We are extremely concerned that it could send a misleading message, since it suggests that hand-held and hands-free devices are equally risky," the association said in a statement.

The AAA study, sponsored by the American Automobile Association's Foundation for Traffic Safety, was published today in a report titles "Measuring Cognitive Distraction in the Automobile." The AAA has been a longtime advocate for a complete ban on texting while driving, and discourages drivers from talking on the phone, whether hand-held or hands-free.

Apple has been promoting its Siri Eyes Free technology and what it calls iOS in the car. Several automakers, including BMW, (BMW supports Eyes Free, but not iOS in the Car) Mercedes, Honda and GM are getting on board.

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