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Apple Responds To Study That Called Siri A Dangerous Distraction To Drivers

In a University of Utah study, Siri scored poorly on a driver distraction scale.

Apple Responds To Study That Called Siri A Dangerous Distraction To Drivers
[Photo: Flickr user Thomas Anderson]

Last month, a study from the University of Utah suggested that in-car voice recognition systems are distracting, and could be more dangerous than helpful. Although they are designed to keep drivers from texting, tweeting, or making phone calls with their hands, the study—which was funded by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety—found that the majority of voice interfaces are clunky and confusing.

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The researchers tested a handful of voice assistants from carmakers like Toyota, GM, Hyundai, and Ford, as well as Apple’s Siri. They used heart-rate monitors and eye-tracking equipment designed to test the stress levels of participants as they performed basic voice tasks: emails, texts, navigating through music, etc. Each system was awarded a score from 1 to 5 (with 5 being the worst) to assess how distracted and stressed a driver was.

For context, listening to the radio is about a 1. Apple’s Siri scored among the worst—a 4 out of 5 on the mental distraction scale.

“Technologies used in the car that rely on voice communications may have unintended consequences that adversely affect road safety,” said Peter Kissinger, president and CEO of the AAA Foundation for traffic safety, in a statement. “The level of distraction and the impact on safety can vary tremendously based on the task or the system the driver is using.”

On Monday, Apple responded to the study, claiming that the researchers didn’t use Siri’s Eyes Free or CarPlay systems, which are designed specifically for driving. “CarPlay and Siri Eyes Free intuitively use your vehicle’s native controls so you don’t need to pick-up and look at your phone while driving,” Apple told the Wall Street Journal. “These experiences are tailored so you only have access to iPhone apps that are optimized for the car and make sense for an in-vehicle experience.”

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It’s a fair point. Critics so far seem to like CarPlay, at least when they can get their hands on it. “CarPlay seems pretty cool,” wrote Jim Travers at Consumer Reports, after taking CarPlay out for a spin. “More importantly, its simple menus, easy navigation, and excellent Siri voice command integration can reduce driver distraction.”

The downside is that, at least as of October, CarPlay is only built into select new Ferraris. Other carmakers with CarPlay integration—like Honda, Hyndai, and Volvo—are said to be on the way. But for now, looks like you’ll need a spare $300,000 or so for the Ferrari FF.

[h/t: 9to5 Mac]

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About the author

Chris is a staff writer at Fast Company, where he covers business and tech. He has also written for The Week, TIME, Men's Journal, The Atlantic, and more.

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