Are Smartphones Too Distracting for Drivers?

A new research study published in the Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology examined the impact of voice-based interactions using 3 different intelligent personal assistants (Apple’s Siri, Google’s Google Now for Android phones, and Microsoft’s Cortana) on the cognitive workload of the driver. In 2 experiments using an instrumented vehicle on suburban roadways, authors measured the cognitive workload of drivers when they used the voice-based features of each smartphone to place a call, select music, or send text messages. Cognitive workload was derived from primary task performance through video analysis, secondary-task performance using the Detection Response Task (DRT), and subjective mental workload. They  found that workload was significantly higher than that measured in the single-task drive. There were also systematic differences between the smartphones: The Google system placed lower cognitive demands on the driver than the Apple and Microsoft systems, which did not differ. Video analysis revealed that the difference in mental workload between the smartphones was associated with the number of system errors, the time to complete an action, and the complexity and intuitiveness of the devices. Finally, surprisingly high levels of cognitive workload were observed when drivers were interacting with the devices: “on-task” workload measures did not systematically differ from that associated with a mentally demanding Operation Span (OSPAN) task. The analysis also found residual costs associated using each of the smartphones that took a significant time to dissipate. The data suggest that caution is warranted in the use of smartphone voice-based technology in the vehicle because of the high levels of cognitive workload associated with these interactions. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2017 APA, all rights reserved)

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