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U of U Studies Show Hands-Free Entertainment Systems Often Distract Drivers

Tim Slover

One study shows that several of the voice-controlled entertainment systems available in new cars can be more distracting for drivers than talking on a cell phone. In the other study researchers tested several voice-activated entertainment systems and found that Siri on the Apple iPhone caused the most 

distractions, even when altered to be used hands-free.  Assistant Research Professor Joel Cooper was lead author on one of the studies. He says lengthy interactions with voice-activated systems make for more distracted driving.

“If the interaction is prolonged,” explains Cooper, “if they get in there, they say a command, the system misunderstands them, they repeat the command, they go back and make a correction—you can see how this goes on and on and on. And frustration is elevated, and your potential to miss things on the roadway is elevated. Your distraction levels go up.” 

162 University of Utah students volunteered for the studies.  They performed a series of tasks, such as sending texts, emails, and tuning the radio, using voice-based technologies and a driving simulator.  Some drove real cars around the Avenues neighborhood in Salt Lake, accompanied by a researcher. Cooper hopes manufacturers will take note of the new findings.

“The systems are here to stay,” says Cooper. “And our hope with this work, then, is that people—engineers, auto manufacturers, gadget manufacturers—can take this research and learn from it, and make their systems as easy to use as possible in the cars, because people are going to use them.” 

Researchers used a five point scale to measure distraction according to specific entertainment systems and tasks.  The findings are available at

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