In an attempt to reduce the number of lives that are lost in distracted driving car accidents and as an added convenience for drivers, many car manufacturers have implemented voice-activated technology in their vehicles. This technology is designed to allow drivers to compose email, text, dial phone numbers, update social media statuses and perform other vehicle functions simply by using voice commands. A study released by AAA looking at distraction and hands-free cellphones found measured drivers’ cognitive distraction while they performed various tasks, including using voice-activated technology. This task measured highest in cognitive distraction, even more so than using a hand-held cellphone. This prompted researchers to further investigate the distractions associated with voice-activated technology.

In this study, researchers asked participants to perform certain tasks using the voice-activated technology installed in six different vehicles. Participants activated the technology using a touch button on the steering wheel. They were asked to dial a 10-digit number, change the radio station, call a contact or play a CD. They were also asked to compose and listen to text messages that were read with a synthetic, computerized voice and a more natural voice. Researchers measured mental workload by evaluating heart rate, reaction time and subjective reports.

The results showed that as the tasks became more complicated, drivers experienced greater amounts of cognitive distraction. They also showed greater amounts of distraction while using certain vehicle systems as opposed to others. Some functions and commands were harder to use in some vehicles because of the technology, and it was in these vehicles that drivers showed the greatest amounts of distraction. In order to minimize distraction, these systems should be simple to use and accurate.