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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, April 12, 2010

Voice controls help keep eyes on road


By SHARON SILKE CARTY
USA Today

DETROIT A Virginia Tech Transportation Institute study, commissioned by Ford Motor, has found that drivers using voice controls for electronics took their eyes off the road far less than drivers who fiddled with music players and cell phones.

Shane McLaughlin, a researcher with the Center for Automotive Safety Research at VTTI, says that as he picks apart accident reconstructions, he's left with one message: "Don't ever look down."

Say McLaughlin, "What we're finding across our studies is that if we can keep the eyes on the road, that's a big piece of the puzzle."

The study looked at 22 users of Ford's Microsoft-based Sync voice-activated controls in real-world driving situations. That's important, says McLaughlin, because many such tests done in labs fail to pick up on how drivers behave in the real world.

The study found drivers looked away from the road 2.5 times more often when using hand- rather than voice-activated controls for a phone call. It was 10 times more often for operating a music player.

Ford has heavily promoted its Sync system, but it is not the only automaker with such hands-free technology to control in-car electronics. This summer, in some 2011 models, Hyundai and Kia will start using a Microsoft-based application similar to Ford's, called Uvo.

Among other brands offering voice controls in some form on at least some models are German automakers BMW, Mercedes and Volkswagen, and Japanese brands Nissan, Infiniti, Toyota and Lexus.

Not all systems do equally well at consistently picking up on the driver's voice.