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Follow-up study looks at distraction and in-vehicle systems

Recently, the American Automobile Association’s Foundation for Traffic Safety released the findings of their latest study on cognitive distraction. Researchers looked at new in-vehicle systems that are activated by the driver’s voice. These systems are often marketed to car buyers in Kentucky as a safety feature, designed to lower the driver’s accident risk.

The study was based on an earlier study to measure cognitive, or mental, distraction. That study showed that voice-to-text systems were more distracting to drivers then other things such as cellphones, talking to passengers and listening to the radio. To further examine these systems, researchers chose the following:

  •          Entune (Toyota)
  •          MyFord Touch (Ford)
  •          MyLink (Chevrolet)
  •          Blue Link (Hyundai)
  •          COMAND (Mercedes)

Participants were asked to perform different tasks with these systems while driving, which varied from making a phone call to choosing music. Sensors, cameras and other equipment captured data such as driver behavior, brain activity, heart rate and reaction time. The driving test took a total of nine minutes and occurred in a natural neighborhood.

The data collected showed that in reaction time, the systems from Ford, Chevrolet and Mercedes ranked highest on the scale. For example, drivers who solely concentrated on driving showed a reaction time of 640 milliseconds when they needed to hit the brakes. Drivers with the Ford system, which also was the slowest system to respond to voice commands, ranked 822 on the scale. Chevrolet ranked 775 and Mercedes ranked 766. Researchers also noted that all voice-systems in the vehicles were above 700 milliseconds in reaction time, which could put drivers at a higher risk for a collision than other tasks. The systems with the highest level of mental workload for drivers were Chevrolet, Mercedes and Ford, also showing that they caused a higher level of cognitive distraction for drivers than tasks that were not as involved.

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