AAA: New Hands-Free Technologies Pose Hidden Dangers for Drivers

Surprising Research Finds that Mental Distractions Can Persist Long
after Completing a Task

AURORA, Ill.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Potentially unsafe mental distractions can persist for as long as 27
seconds after dialing, changing music or sending a text using voice
commands, according to surprising new research by the AAA Foundation for
Traffic Safety. The results raise new and unexpected concerns regarding
the use of phones and vehicle information systems while driving. This
research represents the third phase of the Foundation’s comprehensive
investigation into cognitive distraction, which shows that new
hands-free technologies can mentally distract drivers even if their eyes
are on the road and their hands are on the wheel.

“The lasting effects of mental distraction pose a hidden and pervasive
danger that would likely come as a surprise to most drivers,” said Peter
Kissinger, President and CEO of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.
“The results indicate that motorists could miss stop signs, pedestrians
and other vehicles while the mind is readjusting to the task of driving.”

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.

“Drivers should use caution while using voice-activated systems, even at
seemingly safe moments when there is a lull in traffic or the car is
stopped at an intersection,” said Beth Mosher, director of public
affairs for AAA Chicago. “The reality is that mental distractions
persist and can affect driver attention even after the light turns

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.

The researchers rated mental distraction on a five-point scale. Category
one represents a mild level of distraction and category five represents
the maximum. AAA considers a mental distraction rating of two and higher
to be potentially dangerous while driving.

The best performing system was the Chevy Equinox with a cognitive
distraction rating of 2.4, while the worst performing system was the
Mazda 6 with a cognitive distraction rating of 4.6. Among phone systems,
Google Now performed best with a distraction rating of 3.0, while Apple
Siri and Microsoft Cortana earned ratings of 3.4 and 3.8. Using the
phones to send texts significantly increased the level of mental
distraction. While sending voice-activated texts, Google Now rated as a
category 3.3 distraction, while Apple Siri and Microsoft Cortana rated
as category 3.7 and category 4.1 distractions.

“The massive increase in voice-activated technologies in cars and phones
represents a growing safety problem for drivers,” continued Mosher. “We
are concerned that these new systems may invite driver distraction, even
as overwhelming scientific evidence concludes that hands-free is not
risk free.”

Previous AAA Foundation research established that a category 1 mental
distraction is about the same as listening to the radio or an audio
book. A category 2 distraction is about the same as talking on the
phone, while category 3 is equivalent to sending voice-activated texts
on a perfect, error-free system. Category 4 is similar to updating
social media while driving, while category 5 corresponds to a
highly-challenging, scientific test designed to overload a driver’s

Over the last two weeks, AAA has used the findings to continue our
collaborative work with policymakers, safety advocates and manufacturers
to improve the safety of future technology.

“Developers should reduce mental distractions by designing systems that
are no more demanding than listening to the radio or an audiobook,”
continued Mosher. “Given that the impairing effects of distraction may
last much longer than people realize, AAA advises consumers to use
caution when interacting with these technologies while behind the wheel.”

Select b-roll
of the research is available to download and for news media
purposes. The complete research reports, photos and other graphics are
on AAA’s
. The previous findings from Phase
and Phase
of the Foundation’s research into cognitive distraction also are

Dr. David Strayer and Dr. Joel Cooper of the University of Utah
conducted the research. A total of 257 drivers ages 21-70 participated
in the study of 2015 model-year vehicles, while 65 additional drivers
ages 21-68 tested the three phone systems.

Established by AAA in 1947, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety is a
501(c)(3) not-for-profit, publicly-supported charitable educational and
research organization. Dedicated to saving lives and reducing injuries
on our roads, the Foundation’s mission is to prevent crashes and save
lives through research and education about traffic safety. The
Foundation has funded over 200 research projects designed to discover
the causes of traffic crashes, prevent them and minimize injuries when
they do occur. Visit
for more information on this and other research.

As North America’s largest motoring and leisure travel organization, AAA
provides more than 55 million members with travel, insurance, financial
and automotive-related services. Since its founding in 1902, the
not-for-profit, fully tax-paying AAA has been a leader and advocate for
the safety and security of all travelers. AAA clubs can be visited on
the Internet at

AAA news releases, high-resolution images, broadcast-quality video,
fact sheets and podcasts are available on the AAA NewsRoom at


Beth Mosher, (630) 328-7234