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Do Infotainment systems make cars safer? Study suggests otherwise

Snapshot: The study was done to find the co-relation between the voice-activated infotainment systems and the level of distraction they create for drivers.

A recent study conducted by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety and the University of Utah will alter your thinking that, more the advanced infotainment, more you will be safer to drive the car using only voice commands to do all the sci-fi stuff. The study was done to find the co-relation between the voice-activated dashboard infotainment systems and the level of distraction they create for the drivers. 

The study, rated the systems on the scale of 1 to 5, where 1 represents no distraction and 5 represents a maximum distraction with the mind doing complex math problems and word memorization to operate the system. The systems were tested under three experimental settings of a laboratory, a simulator, and driving a car in the real conditions around the Salt Lake City. The test was done on 162 university students and other volunteers and the infotainment systems used were in the 2013 model year cars.

The rating was done on the following systems; drivers listening to the radio, listening to a book on tape, using a hands-free cell phone, talking with a passenger, using a hand-held cellphone, and using a speech-to-text system that recognizes commands perfectly to compose and listen to emails.

The infotainment system used for the study were; Toyota's Entune, Hyundai's Blue Link, Chrysler's UConnect, Ford SYNC with MyFord Touch, Mercedes' COMAND, and Apple's Siri.

Scoring of the various brands infotainment systems

Scoring of the various activities performed while driving

Interestingly enough, using a phone while driving is less dangerous than using a text to speech command. Apple's Siri is also rated worst in the study at 4.14 on the scale of 5, showing how difficult it is to use the software while driving. The study showed how Siri sometimes selected wrong phone numbers from phonebooks, like in one test, Siri called 911 instead of the phone number requested by the driver and the driver lost concentration while disconnecting the call before it went through because of panic.

David Strayer, the Professor from the University who was heading the study said " The systems with the worst ratings were those that made errors, even though the drivers' voice commands were clear and distinct. Drivers had to concentrate on exactly what words they wanted to use and in what order to get the systems to follow their commands, creating a great deal of frustration."

The companies in question here are already showing their disagreement with study. Apple has said in a statement that 'researchers didn't use the company's CarPlay or Siri Eyes Free, which are designed for use in cars.' Replying to Apple, Strayer said "Researchers consulted with the Apple before the beginning of the study and any of the software used is the latest one."

Responding to the study, Deborah Hersman, president of the National Safety Council said "Infotainment systems are unregulated. It is like the Wild West, where the most critical safety feature in the vehicle — the driver — is being treated like a guinea pig in human trials with new technologies."

This study comes as a wake up call for the big houses of technology, Apple and Google, who are working in sync with the automakers to integrate the smartphones with infotainment systems so that drivers can easily use the apps like music, navigation and telephones without the use of hands.

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