The studies were participated by 162 university students and a number of other volunteers. There were three different settings where the tests were conducted. These are the laboratory, a driving simulator, and on-the-road driving through the neighborhood of Salt Lake City. The study is aimed at finding out how much distraction that a driver gets from the car's voice-activated dashboard infotainment system. Moreover, it aims to study if the Siri voice command system of Apple offers not only hands-free convenience in using one's smartphone while driving but also increased safety on the road.
Most of the infotainment systems used in the study belong to 2013 model year of the cars. The Siri system used the iOS 7 version although researchers claimed that it was adapted in order to function almost identical to the latest iOS 8 version.
Apple's Siri received the worst rating of 4.14. During the experiment, there were times when Siri garbled text messages or chose the wrong phone numbers. In one of the test, Siri even called 911 and not the requested phone number of the volunteer driver. This made the driver scramble to end the call quickly before someone picks up the call.
"When these systems become more complex, like sending text messages or posting to Facebook, it pushes the workloads to pretty high levels and may be dangerous while driving, said David Strayer, a psychology professor of the University of Utah and the proponent of the studies. "The push to voice-based technology acknowledges that people need to keep their eyes on the road. Our research suggests that's not enough. You need to be paying attention to what you're looking at."
The voice control system is mostly adopted in late-model cars. Auto makers have been touting their cars with the new technology as something that allows a driver to do more than just driving. Drivers can even push a button on the steering wheel and start saying a few words which would prompt the car to choose a new destination as guided by its navigation system. Other commands would include changing the radio station and placing a phone call.
Apart from Siri, the research team led by Strayer tested[PDF] the voice control systems offered by the automakers of Ford Sync, Toyota Entune and Chevrolet MyLink. So far, it was Toyota Entune which performed the best at the score of 1.7 out of the 5 point scale. Chevrolet MyLink scored the worst at 3.7 out of 5.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is now looking into which control system is safe to use while one is behind the wheel. The options include a cell phone, voice controls, buttons or a touchscreen.