Distracted Driving: Even Voice-Activated Systems Are Risky, Study Says


By Michael Pines, Accident & Injury Prevention Expert

We all know by now that distracted driving increases the chances of getting into a car accident. That’s why auto and device manufacturers have improved technology to enable drivers to multi-function while minimizing distraction. In recent years, voice-activated systems have been the cornerstone of device technology when it comes to reduced distraction. But as a new study suggests, voice-activated systems may actually be more dangerous than once suspected.

The New York Times reports that according to a report at the Foundation for Highway Safety, voice-activated technology actually distracts an individual’s mind as opposed to the physiological effects of manual operation.

These days, voice commanded devices can do everything from dictating text messages, dialing phone numbers, emailing and updating a Facebook page. And with an increasing emphasis on in-cabin entertainment, more technology like Wi-Fi, GPS and radios are enabled with voice-activated systems.

“What we really have on our hands is a looming public safety crisis with the proliferation of these vehicles,” said Yolanda Cade, a spokeswoman for AAA, to the New York Times.

Auto companies, though, have argued that voice-activated devices are safer than manually-operated systems because of hands-free operation. But according to the study at the Foundation for Highway Safety, regardless of operation, any distraction –including voice – from the road ahead increases the risk for car accidents.

Researchers found that devices reliant on voice technology create significant cognitive distraction which can actually prove worse in the face of a roadside emergency. For instance, fast braking or a decisive lane change may take a few seconds longer when a driver is engaged in a voice-activated device. But because driving requires split-second decision making, even one second can spell disaster.

David Strayer, lead researcher and a neuroscientist at the University of Utah, applied the principles of “attention science” to the conditions of roadway driving including electrical activity in the brain as it relates to decision-making behind the wheel. He concluded through the study that “speech-to-text technology caused a higher level of cognitive distraction than any of the other activities.”

In other words, voice commanded devices can actually impair your ability to drive more than manually operated devices – not that one is better than the other. It should be noted that ALL distraction behind the wheel is dangerous.

“The research showed, for instance, that the person interacting with speech to text was less likely than in other activities to scan a crosswalk for pedestrians,” the New York Times reported. “ And that driver showed lowered activity in networks of the brain associated with driving, indicating that those networks were impaired by the interaction with the technology.”


These practical ideas can help you stay focused on the road ahead.

Queue Incoming Texts

Stay safe by queuing incoming text messages until your vehicle has come to a complete stop. Download any of the hundreds of phone apps available that use GPS-enabled technology to stop incoming texts while driving.

Stash Away Your Cell

If you can, try putting your cell phone in the trunk of your car while driving. When your phone is out of sight, it’s out of mind. In the event of an emergency, you can always pull over safely to a designated shoulder or rest stop and use your phone if necessary.

Avoid Eating, Drinking or Applying Makeup

You may think that with years’ of experience multi-tasking behind the wheel, it is “easy” to eat, drink or apply makeup while driving. This false sense of security leads to thousands of car accidents in San Diego every year. Don’t risk it – put everything away and focus on the road ahead.

About Michael Pines

Michael Pines is a personal injury attorney at the

Law Offices of Michael Pines, APC

in San Diego, California. He is an accident and injury prevention expert, on a campaign to end senseless injury one article at a time. Catch Mike on