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AAA study ranks mental distraction of using iPhone voice commands on the road vs other platforms


In its continued research into distracted driving, the American Automobile Association (AAA) today published the results of its latest study that aimed to show the level of mental distraction related to using voice commands on the road. The study included using the iPhone’s Siri voice commands for making calls and changing music while driving and compared those results with using voice activated systems from car manufacturers and other smartphone makers.

Researchers found that potentially unsafe levels of mental distraction can last for as long as 27 seconds after completing a distracting task in the worst-performing systems studied. At the 25 MPH speed limit in the study, drivers traveled the length of nearly three football fields during this time. When using the least distracting systems, drivers remained impaired for more than 15 seconds after completing a task…

The researchers discovered the residual effects of mental distraction while comparing new hands-free technologies in ten 2015 vehicles and three types of smart phones. The analysis found that all systems studied increased mental distraction to potentially unsafe levels. The systems that performed best generally had fewer errors, required less time on task and were relatively easy to use.

In the study (visualized in the chart below), Apple scored a 3.4, which puts it in AAA’s “high distraction” category and behind Android’s Google Now feature and several car manufacturers. Products coming in with a better score than Siri included the Ford Taurus, Android’s Google Now feature, the Toyota 4Runner, the Buick Lacrosse, and the Chevy Equinox. On the other side of the chart, the study showed Volkswagen, Chrysler, Hyundai, Microsoft’s Cortana feature for Windows smartphones, and Mazda with systems that result in more distraction than Siri.


While the study used smartphones docked within the car to test the platforms, it didn’t make mention of whether or not it considered Apple’s Carplay platform, which allows use of iPhone features from in-dash systems in select vehicles. It’s likely not yet including the platform since it’s only available in a handful of select vehicles, but it didn’t specify what specific features it used to test platforms from the car manufacturers. For the most part, however, the voice command experience with CarPlay is comparable to using a docked iPhone.

To go along with the data, AAA published some video showing how it performed the tests:

Earlier this year AAA launched a road safety campaign that showed real videos of young people getting in accidents while the results of its first smartphone related distracted driver study were published last year. 

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  1. Gary Frost - 7 years ago

    Yeah, so does talking with your passengers, especially if you are in a more complex topic or business discussion. It is up to the driver to be safe and to develop safe “habits”

    • Luis Alves - 7 years ago

      That’s a good point. But interestingly enough, other passengers aren’t nearly as distracting as voice conversations over the phone. The reason for it is that if the passenger is also paying attention to the task at hand, they tend to slow down their speech or stop talking during high demand situations such as intersections.

    • samuelsnay - 7 years ago

      That’s not true. It’s been proven that talking with passengers is safer than talking to or on your phone because your passenger is able to assess the road situation at the same time as the driver, leading to the driver being more willing to pause the conversation as they adjust to traffic conditions around them.

  2. iSRS - 7 years ago

    Finally a useful study. Now all the platforms can develop a roadmap for addressing these shortcomings.

    • dcj001 - 7 years ago

      The biggest shortcoming that I observed in this test is that they chose idiots to be the test subjects. Unfortunately, stupid people will always be driving.

      • r00fus1 - 7 years ago

        I’d be worried if they chose cabbies or other folks who are on the more experienced end. Some folks can operate laptops while driving. Definitely not my Mom or sister.

        Also wheres the Android Auto and CarPlay? Sounds like a good followup would be with those systems in place (perhaps calling out specific car implementations, or aftermarket devices).

        At that point, I’d take this study more seriously.

  3. Paul Andrew Dixon - 7 years ago

    The problem with a test like this is that each driver is different – we all have different tolerance levels and some of us can shut out distractions…for example, you have those who use music to help them concentrate more, and others who end up being totally distracted when their favorite song comes on and they must belt one out…
    This is the same with tech – there are those who know how to work tech and they get hardly any distractions, it’s only when something goes wrong with the tech that it can become a big distraction…

    I do think that unnecessary distractions should be eliminated – i think this should include talking on the phone, even if it is hands free… at least if you have passengers you can tell them to be quite while you concentrate in difficult traffic, or turn the radio off, but you cant really end an important call (this implies mostly to those business people who think they are invincible)

    gps navigation is also a huge problem — people should at least have a general idea of where they are going so that they can rely on listening to instructions – although i have had it where im in 4 lanes of traffic and it tells me last minute i need to be in the far side lane…thanks navi…

    however, i think the biggest problem is that there are far too many people who are easily given a car licence… i never forget when my american friend told me that they just had to pass drivers ed in school, or drive with a parent for a year, or something like that…i now live in japan, to pass their tests they drive very very very slowly to perform all the maneuvers because “it’s safer to go slower than fast”…there is a very small portion of the test where they must get up to 60kph… coming from england to japan i find japan drives very slow, and trust me, slower is not safer.

    Also, old people have very slow reaction speeds…through in technology that is supposed to help them is just a recipe for disaster…

    in short – each driver is different… and as dcj001 said – stupid people will always be driving

  4. stevelawrence - 7 years ago

    Will they take into account how distracting it must be to have all that shit strapped to your head and your windshield?

  5. Cameron Scott - 7 years ago

    So we are developing autonomous self driving cars to free up the distraction that is the outside world which allows us to better focus on our electronic devices? Makes sense.

  6. Let those who are using iPhone ear plugs and siri die. There will be less people in this country and more easier to get the next iPhone or iPad.

    • thejuanald - 7 years ago

      It’s crazy to me. I always thought wearing headphones was illegal while driving.

  7. Will Van Gelderen - 7 years ago

    All this shows is that voice recognition is still not ready yet. I just switched to iOS from Windows Phone, and I have to say Microsoft has done a fantastic job with Cortana. So far it was better at recognizing my words and also reading my texts out when they come in. If anything what ends up happening is that drivers get frustrated with their voice not being recognized and resort back to texting or calling by hand

  8. Joe Dowdell - 7 years ago

    I’ve used Apple CarPlay, and tried Siri just straight from phone. I can tell you both are annoyingly difficult and distracting. It takes me less time and thought to go to the next track by just picking up the dang phone and pressing the button real quick. Or just quickly glancing at something, but not responding. Way easier than figuring out “Siri, play latest message. no the latest message. no not that one. play message from John. play latest message. from John.” It takes less effort and thought to just glance at it really quick. Typing and responding shouldn’t be done though, but for most tasks, I just use the phone itself since it seems safer and easier.

    • myke2241 - 7 years ago

      i have carplay in my car and don’t have any issues like this. BTW what your doing is far more dangerous! you just don’t think so because your familiar with it doing so.

      • Joe Dowdell - 7 years ago

        What’s the difference between glancing at and tapping a properly mounted iPhone vs the built in shitty head unit that comes with my car? If I’m hitting next music track or glancing at a notification popup, it’s really not much different from CarPlay. Just a lot easier to use the phone itself rather than some dumbed down “safe” version. For example, CarPlay defaults to Siri in Maps when I want to enter a location. Many times it won’t recognize the location, so I have to type it anyway. First step: attempt Siri, it fails. Second step: hit the tiny keyboard button on CarPlay. Step three: attempt to use the crappy CarPlay keyboard. It so much faster, more responsive, and easier to skip the whole Siri mess and just use the phone mounted with a ProClip. And obviously I won’t type a whole text message or anything, mostly just glancing at it or hitting next track.

      • myke2241 - 7 years ago

        big! if you have used carplay you could of just touched the skip / next track button on the deck. instead you opted to do what is illegal in most states. your statement in its self tells me you haven’t spent much time actually using carplay or have a poor set up with bad mic location and GPS antenna. i have none of the issues you have.

        BTW just because your car manufacture places the BT mic in crappy location isn’t a fault of carplay

  9. myke2241 - 7 years ago

    Wow, what BS! they mite as well put kids at the wheel and calibrated siri to the voice of Theodor!

  10. I wouldn’t use anything while driving. I think this is very subjective matter.

  11. Martinspire - 7 years ago

    There’s a lot of background noise in those cars. It made the voice recognition very bad in many cases. It might be the type of cars that drive in the US but it seems very very loud.

  12. Charles Iams - 7 years ago

    Am I the only person who noticed the iPhone is suctioned to the damn LCD display in the car? WTF…


Avatar for Jordan Kahn Jordan Kahn

Jordan writes about all things Apple as Senior Editor of 9to5Mac, & contributes to 9to5Google, 9to5Toys, & He also co-authors 9to5Mac’s Logic Pros series.