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AAA Ranks Automakers With Most Distracting Hands-Free Systems

Motor Trend logo Motor Trend 10/7/2014 Kelly Pleskot

A few years ago, there was talk of banning all cellular devices -- including hands-free systems -- while driving. A new study by AAA confirms that hands-free devices can present distractions on the road, but to various degrees. In the study, AAA compares the hands-free systems of different automakers to determine which ones are the safest.

Analyzing voice-activated systems in cars from six different automakers, the research group determined that Toyota's Entune system offered the fewest distractions, ranking 1.7 on a five-point scale. This level of distraction, according to the study, is the equivalent of listening to an audio book. Hyundai Blue Link and Chrysler Uconnect also scored well at 2.2 and 2.7, respectively. Ford SYNC with MyFord Touch and Mercedes COMAND scored 3.0 and 3.1, respectively, while the Chevrolet MyLink came in last with a ranking of 3.7.

2015 Chevrolet Sonic Interior Phone Connected© Provided by MotorTrend 2015 Chevrolet Sonic Interior Phone Connected

"It is clear that not all voice systems are created equal, and today's imperfect systems can lead to driver distraction," said AAA CEO Bob Darbelnet. "AAA is confident that it will be possible to make safer systems in the future." AAA says this will happen if automakers can reduce the complexity of their systems and the time it takes to access each function.

But which behaviors distract drivers the most today? AAA found that listening to the radio was a low-distraction behavior. Talking on a hands-free device was a little more distracting, on par with listening to messages read from the car. But composing text messages and emails using in-vehicle technologies was more distracting. Surprisingly, the study also looked at Apple's Siri eyes-free and hands-free systems and found that this system generated the most driver distraction, registering at level 4.

To come up with these results, AAA monitored the heart rates and reaction times of the drivers to determine their levels of distraction. Generally, more accurate voice recognition software was deemed less distracting than less reliable devices.

Source: AAA

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