A study by AAA ranks Siri as a “category 4 level of mental distraction,” which means you’re very likely to have an accident if you use the assistant while driving.
The group used instrumented test vehicles and heart-rate monitors, among other things, to measure the drivers’ reaction times and assess the likelihood of them making a mistake behind the wheel.
The test was done to understand how the driver’s attention span is affected by Siri’s various particularities, including the robotic, synthesized voice.
While operating the assistant did show a disturbance in the force, so to speak, the research also indicated that “the quality of the synthetic speech was not a major contributor to the effect.”
The press release further states that participants were not allowed to look at or touch the iPhone during the examination, as “the experimenter performed all manual interaction with Siri.” This was done to prove that any resulted impairments were cognitive in nature.
Participants were also asked to wear a lapel microphone so that they wouldn’t have to shout.
As it stands, Siri is not 100% safe to be used while driving, according to the research done by AAA. The group found that Siri is a “category 4 level of mental distraction.”
By comparison, listening to the radio was rated as a category 1 distraction, talking on the phone or hands-free equipment was a category 2 distraction, and “using an error-free speech-to-text system to listen to and compose emails or texts was a category 3 distraction,” according to the report.
Bob Darbelnet, chief executive officer of AAA said, “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. We now understand that current shortcomings in these products, intended as safety features, may unintentionally cause greater levels of cognitive distraction.”
“Technologies used in the car that rely on voice communications may have unintended consequences that adversely affect road safety,” added Peter Kissinger, President and CEO of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. “The level of distraction and the impact on safety can vary tremendously based on the task or the system the driver is using.”
While the study may well be accurate (and there’s no reason to believe it isn’t), let’s not forget Apple’s efforts to making Siri safer for driving. CarPlay-equipped vehicles are far better designed to tackle these problems. But since the product has barely made it to market, we’ll just have to wait and see what impact it has in real life scenarios.