A new study finds hands-free Siri interaction results in highest levels of distraction while driving

image Siri distraction2

Before CarPlay was announced, and even before it becomes a standard utility in some cars coming off the assembly line, using our smartphones in cars usually meant we had to directly interact with them in some way or another. According to a new report, Siri’s hands-free solution is still quite distracting while you’re driving.

The research was put together through a lengthy test and trial from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, which you can read in a study they recently published [PDF]. Within the study, the AAA Foundation tested 45 drivers in a series of trials, all the while trying to determine what, if anything, caused the most distraction while they were behind the wheel. According to their findings, Siri’s high complexity and lack of overall intuitiveness led to the highest levels of driver distraction.

The test included a five-category system, and it had drivers try different tasks while they were driving, including updating their social networks like Facebook or Twitter, setting a calendar appointment, or simply receiving and replying to text messages. It should be noted, of course, that the testing process included an iPhone 5 running iOS 7. The test utilized a microphone and voice-commands only, so that the process could remain hands-free and eyes-free. This meant that the driver could not directly interact with the device, either by looking at it or touching it.

image Siri distraction

The AAA Foundation found that interacting with Siri led to the highest mental workload for those who used it. During the testing process, they even recorded two accidents as people tried to use the feature. One test resulted in Siri achieving both the “highest complexity” rating, while also obtaining the “lowest rating of intuitiveness.”

Common issues involved inconsistencies in which Siri would produce different responses to seemingly identical commands. In other circumstances, Siri required exact phrases to accomplish specific tasks, and subtle deviations from that phrasing would result in a failure.

When there was a failure to properly dictate a message, it required starting over since there was no way to modify/edit a message or command. Siri also made mistakes such as calling someone other than the desired person from the phone contact list. Some participants also reported frustration with Siri’s occasional sarcasm and wit.

In the end, the AAA Foundation notes that Siri could become better over time as it learns the user’s voice and accent better, but that more than likely the only way it could truly improve is with significant software enhancements.

One final note of the test is that, as aforementioned, it was done through an older model iPhone running older iOS software, and certainly not running Apple’s CarPlay, the software specifically built for driving environments. As early looks of CarPlay have indicated, Siri’s integration is a stand-out feature, and ease of use is noted as well. Still, it should go without saying that reducing the number of distractions a driver has is always a good thing, as focusing on the road is the most important part.

[via MacRumors; AAA]