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Voice activated devices and cognitive distraction

Voice activated technology comes standard in many vehicles allowing drivers the luxury of speaking commands and carrying out tasks, all without having to remove their hands from the steering wheel. Although this technology is designed to decrease driver distraction, studies show that it may do just the opposite. Although voice-activated devices do not require drivers to use their hands or eyes, it does require their focus. When motorists switch their focus from driving and concentrate on another task, such as trying to complete a command, it increases the risk of a serious car accident.

A study released by AAA looked at various voice-activated programs in several vehicles and how they affect a driver's ability to concentrate on the road. The driver was asked to complete several voice-command tasks while using technology that had a synthetic voice versus a natural voice. Researchers also asked drivers to use the voice-activated technology on a cellphone during the study. During the test, drivers' heart rate, cognitive workload, brain activity, eye movement and response time were measured. The results showed that while there was not a significant different between the synthetic and natural voices used in the technology, some vehicles' technology was more distracting than others. Furthermore, the cellphone voice commands were highly distracting as well.

The study showed that the ease of use between the different technologies directly affected the amount of distraction they produced. When drivers were focused on using the technology, their minds were diverted from the road for up to 27 seconds. Voice-activated technology that is more user-friendly may prove to be beneficial.  

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