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Sorry, distracted drivers, voice-activated tech isn't safe either

In recent years, auto safety technology has advanced considerably. In many ways, cars are safer now than they have ever been in the past. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for drivers, who often choose to engage in behaviors that they know can lead to car accidents.

Distracted driving is among the worst of these behaviors. That’s why New York and most other states have outlawed texting while driving. New York is one of just over a dozen states to also ban the use of handheld cellphones. These laws are necessary, to be sure, but automakers and mobile device manufacturers are finding workarounds that keep drivers using their devices behind the wheel.

Voice-activated technology is proving to be the next wave for drivers who cannot legally use handheld cellphones behind the wheel. Through voice commands delivered to their cellphones or to in-car “infotainment” systems, drivers continue to text, talk and engage in other activities hands-free. Unfortunately, hands-free is far from distraction-free.

While a driver’s hands might remain on the wheel, his or her mind is still distracted by interacting with cellphone tech or infotainment tech. Moreover, these distractions can be even worse than using a handheld cellphone in some cases because voice-recognition technology does not always correctly interpret and obey voice commands. According to a recent study of such technology, Apple’s Siri is the least reliable and, therefore, the most distracting.

Perhaps the biggest danger with voice-activated technology and in-car infotainment systems is the myth that they are safer than cellphones and other handheld devices. Make no mistake: the only safe driving is distraction-free driving. This means that hands stay on the wheel, eyes stay on the road and the mind stays only on the task of driving.

Source: The New York Times, “Voice Activation Systems Distract Drivers, Study Says,” Matt Richtel, Oct. 7, 2014

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