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Does voice control add to distracted driving?

Evaluating the interaction between drivers and voice control systems

Increasingly, drivers are using voice control systems to tell the devices in their cars what to do, whether it’s dialing a phone number, getting directions, or even turning up the heat. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is investigating how to minimize the effects of voice control systems as contributors to distracted driving.

Westat is supporting NHTSA efforts to evaluate the interaction between drivers and voice control systems using eye-glance behavior and cognitive load laboratory studies. However, it is unclear how such laboratory measures relate to real-world crash risk.

  • In partnership with the University of Washington and the University of Wisconsin, Madison, we designed and are carrying out studies that measure the effects of using voice controls on drivers’ responses when following another car; decelerating; and braking, including emergency braking. We will study people driving in suburban and urban settings driving a test vehicle, and also while they are using a driving simulator.
  • We are also examining the links between laboratory measures of driver distraction and on-road driving performance. The project will examine how a large, existing set of on-road driving data can be used to estimate crash risk for drivers using voice control systems.
  • The findings from these projects will help NHTSA’s continued efforts to develop Driver Distraction Guidelines, which may include evaluation protocols for voice control systems.

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