"Hands-Free" May Not Equal Risk-Free
Motorists have been warned in recent years, through legislation, public service announcements and ads, that talking on the phone or texting - things that take at least one hand off of the wheel while simultaneously distracting the eyes and mind- are dangerous and to be avoided while driving. In response to these concerns, some automakers have come out with "hands-free" systems that allow users to access GPS, place calls, text, and more, using only voice controls.
While hands-free systems have been heavily marketed as being safe for drivers, recent studies suggest that mental distraction caused by trying to accurately communicate to your dashboard can be almost or equally as dangerous as taking a hand off the wheel and looking at your cell phone.
Voice-dictating a text message to the dashboard can result in a dangerous state for the driver, called inattention blindness (casually referred to by law enforcement officials as "looking but not seeing.") The driver will be looking straight ahead at the road, but is thinking about the words that he or she is conveying, rather than what is happening on the road in front of his or her car.
Studies suggest that activities like voice-controlled text messaging or listening and responding to an e-mail can possibly be more distracting than simple driving-related tasks.This may be in part because synthetic voices can be harder to understand than human ones, and because dictating a text message or e-mail requires a significant amount of concentration.
While studies into the safety of the technology are fairly recent and still a bit inconclusive, drivers should be conscious of avoiding any distractions that could lead to an accident, including voice-activated technology.