LANHAM, Md. (WNEW) — “Hands-free” is not necessarily synonymous with “risk-free,” according to a new study from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

The report, released this month, assesses the level of “cognitive demand” associated with a wide range of tasks and technologies common in modern cars.

The systems evaluated in the research are MyFord Touch, Chevrolet MyLink, Chrysler Uconnect, Toyota Entune, Mercedes COMAND, and Hyundai Blue Link.

Using instrumented test vehicles, heart-rate monitors and other equipment designed to measure reaction times, researchers evaluated and ranked common voice-activated interactions based on the level of cognitive distraction generated.

On a five-point scale, Toyota’s Entune system got the lowest cognitive distraction ranking, a 1.7. Chevrolet MyLink got the highest, with a 3.7. In between were Hyundai Blue Link (2.2), the Chrysler Uconnect (2.7), Ford SYNC with MyFord Touch (3) and Mercedes COMAND (3.1).

The study also separately assessed Apple’s Siri, which got a score of 4.

To put the findings in context, 2013 research revealed that listening to the radio rated as a category 1 distraction and simply talking on a hand-held or hands-free cell phone resulted in a category 2 distraction.

“We already know that drivers can miss stop signs, pedestrians and other cars while using voice technologies because their minds are not fully focused on the road ahead,” said Bob Darbelnet, chief executive officer of AAA.

“We now understand that current shortcomings in these products, intended as safety features, may unintentionally cause greater levels of cognitive distraction.”

The goal of the research is to get developers to improve upon the safety of their products by making them less complicated, more accurate and generally easier to use, according to AAA.

“We feel that it is unrealistic to expect drivers to persist in failed attempts to use their voice to achieve a goal which can be accomplished manually by the flick of a switch and the press of a button,” the study says.

“Drivers will probably not use voice commands if they do not require less effort than their manual counterparts. Voice systems which fail to understand the driver will not be used, and if they are used, will result in high cognitive demands and frustration.”


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