Siri is driving me crazy – literally

With voice-activated systems increasingly being built into the cars we buy, and tools like Siri helping the rest of us out with everything from getting directions to dictating emails and texts, we are seldom really ”alone” in our vehicles anymore.

But how safe are these tools? And might they be so bug-riddled that they carry insidious threats by making our brains work too hard when we should be focusing on the road before us?

I use Siri more and more when I’m driving, but I know first-hand that she’s hardly a model of perfection. I’ll say ”Call Joe” and she’ll ask me “Which Joe do you want?” and I’ll say “Joe work” and she’ll say “I don’t see ‘Joe work”’ and on and on it goes, taking my mind off what I’m doing with that wheel in my hands.

So I was hardly surprised to hear that two recent studies have found that these talk-to-me systems we’ve surrounded ourselves with, and that we in fact are beginning to just assume will be incorporated into the design of our new automobiles, are woefully short on efficacy and actually may cause more harm than good for the driver.

According to a post by the Associated Press, voice-activated smartphones, using tools like Siri, “and dashboard infotainment systems may be making the distracted-driving problem worse instead of better.

The systems let drivers do things like tune the radio, send a text message, or make a phone call while keeping their eyes on the road and their hands on the wheel, but many of these systems are so error-prone or complex that they require more concentration from drivers rather than less, according to studies released Tuesday by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety and the University of Utah.

One study looked at infotainment systems that are now common in brands like Chevrolet, Chrysler, Ford, Hyundai and Mercedes. A second study had college students test-drive the Apple iPhone’s Siri system to get directions, compose texts and do other hands-free chores while behind the wheel.

The bottom line: using a distraction scale of 1 to 5, with 1 meaning no distraction and 5 meaning enough distractions to resemble the brain doing complex math computations, the  tests found more problems than benefits with most of the systems.

The systems were tested by 162 university students and other volunteers in three settings: a laboratory, a driving simulator and in cars while driving through a Salt Lake City neighborhood.

Apple’s Siri received the worst rating, 4.14. Twice test drivers using Siri in a driving simulator rear-ended another car.

Chevrolet’s MyLink received the worst rating, 3.7, among the infotainment systems. Infotainment systems from three other automakers — Mercedes, Ford and Chrysler — also were rated more distracting for drivers than simply talking on a hand-held cellphone. “What we continue to see from customers is that they demand this level of technology in their vehicles, that access to music and access to calls is now a critical part of the driving experience and so we’re looking at innovative ways to provide that,” said Chevrolet spokeswoman Annalisa Bluhm.

Credit: Gary Reyes/Mercury News 


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  • Andy Graybeal

    Ever since mobile devices became so ubiquitous I’ve wondered what did everybody do with their thoughts while driving, walking or just sitting around beforehand. Besides wasting the day with inconsequential chatter, they waste the time of the one they’ve called. Driving is a full time occupation. Ask anyone who does it for a living. Walking requires looking where you’re going and enjoying the sounds of nature and sitting around, a cup of coffee, conversation or reflection. All of these things you give up when you are glued to that tiny screen.

    • ALRUI

      Cell phones and “infotainment” systems are the cause of the majority of fender benders and an increasing number of deaths & must stop!