Vehicle Voice-Activated Systems: It Isn’t What It’s Cracked Up to Be


By Michael Pines, Accident & Injury Prevention Expert

It’s no surprise to learn that distractions behind the wheel can increase your risk of getting into a car accident. But despite conventional wisdom, automakers are still pushing forward with fully connected vehicles complete with bells and whistles ranging from Wi-Fi to Facebook and integrated text messaging and email commands.

The truth is that while in-cabin technology is convenient, it certainly isn’t safe. Even though we may not be using our hands to initiate commands, our minds are just as powerful a distraction. In fact, some of the latest studies support the fact that cognitive distraction is a greater threat behind the wheel due in part to the inherent delay in reactions that stem from using our brains to initiate commands.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, distracted driving is one of the leading causes of fatalities on the road today. And that includes distractions of the cognitive variety as well.

In 2008, University of Utah psychologist David Strayer researched distractions behind the wheel and found that hands-free talking was more distracting than talking to a passenger – not nearly the equivalent. More recently, Strayer also found that voice-activated systems that enable texting and email were the worst possible kind of distraction behind the wheel.

“Just because a new technology does not take the eyes off the road does not make it safe to be used while the vehicle is in motion,” wrote Strayer.

When our brain power is maxed out, our ability to make imperative decisions behind the wheel is inhibited.

“It’s time to consider limiting new and potentially dangerous mental distractions built into cars, particularly with the common public misperception that hands-free means risk-free,” said AAA President Robert Darbelnet.


When it comes to your safety and the safety of those around you, it’s important to simply stay focused on the road ahead. Stop distractions by:

Using minimal technology.

Driving with a multitude of distractions like radio, iPod, GPS, email and Facebook all at once, for example, is a recipe for disaster on our roadways. Reduce the amount of distractions behind the wheel and engage in as few in-cabin technologies as possible.

Never using your cell phone.

Do not ever attempt to use your cell phone while driving. It’s extremely dangerous and can significantly increase your risk of getting into a car accident. Put all devices down and concentrate on the road ahead.

Not eating or drinking behind the wheel.

Food and beverages can cause an accident since it requires much concentration, not to mention the physical need to hold a cup or sandwich. Just five minutes of pulling over to finish your meal can be the difference from a safe car ride to one that can very well take your life.

Establishing car rules.

Kids can be especially hard to control in a vehicle, especially if you have a carload of children to manage. You should have 3 or 4 simple yet non-negotiable rules for all children aboard the vehicle. An example might include never removing seat belts or no shouting. Make sure children understand that safe driving is the top priority.

About Michael Pines

Michael Pines is a personal injury attorney at the

Law Offices of Michael Pines, APC

in San Diego, California. He is an accident and injury prevention expert, on a campaign to end senseless injury one article at a time. Catch Mike on