So far, the safety touted by auto manufacturers about hands-free systems for vehicles has been within reach, but it's not in hand, according to new research that warns about the cognitive distraction the technology introduces to motorists.

A pair of studies conducted by the AAA Foundation and the University of Utah report that devices and systems meant to heighten the road awareness of drivers actually drags it down.

One study sought to gauge the level of driver distraction introduced when interacting with popular hands-free systems like Mercedes' CoMMAND and Ford's MyFord Touch. Chevrolet's MyLink system was ruled the most distracting native system of the lot and Hyundai's Blue Link was rated the best, as it was said to be a bit less distracting than talking with a passenger.

"We already know that drivers can miss stop signs, pedestrians and other cars while using voice technologies because their minds are not fully focused on the road ahead," says Bob Darbelnet, chief executive officer of AAA. "We now understand that current shortcomings in these products, intended as safety features, may unintentionally cause greater levels of cognitive distraction."

While its research revealed many common hands-free systems to be flawed, the AAA said streamlining and simplifying products would help them move closer to the goal of enhancing safety. "Well-executed" digital assistants may be no more distracting than listening to music while driving, stated AAA.

In the other study, researchers put Apple's Siri under the microscope. The digital voice assistant was ruled the most distracting system after being tasked with relaying messages, interacting with calendars and posting to social networking sites.

"Even though your car may be configured to support social media, texting and phone calls, it doesn't mean it is safe to do so," says University of Utah psychology professor and study leader David Strayer. "The primary task should be driving. Things that take your attention away make you a poor driver and make the roads less safe."

The pair of studies from the AAA Foundation and the University of Utah were released roughly a week after the University of Central Florida published research about the negative impact Google Glass and other augmented-reality glasses have on drivers. While Glass users were able to recover more quickly than individuals wielding smartphones, the AR glasses were still just as big a distraction for motorists as were the handsets.

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