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Distraction II: Voice-activated technology

A study originally conducted to measure whether hands-free cellphones cause a significant amount of cognitive distraction to drivers revealed some interesting findings. Not only did they find that hands-free cellphones were just slightly less distracting than talking on hand-held devices, but the results showed that using voice-activated technology while driving was the most distracting of all.

Voice-activated technology was designed to reduce the need for drivers to take their hands and eyes off of the road when using cellular devices. Instead, drivers are able to compose emails, dial phone numbers, write texts and perform a number of other tasks simply by talking to the device. The study showed that while this technology does reduce manual and visual distractions, it presents high levels of cognitive distraction. That is where people cannot focus on driving because they are actively engaged in a conversation. The National Safety Council reported that the human brain cannot engage in two complex activities at the same time without the brain switching focus from one task to the other.

A second study was conducted to take a closer look at voice-activated features and found that errors in the technology led to even bigger distractions. For example, when drivers told the device to find the route to the closest coffee shop, the technology would give back an error. In addition to not providing the right information, the error caused so much distress that it became distracting to drivers who were trying to fix the mistake. The safest way to drive is without any type of cellular distractions.

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