Things as simple as having the car's computer read an incoming text-message rather than the driver reading it can have a huge impact, according to the study. The time a driver's eyes spend off the road to read a text message on a hand-held phone: 11 seconds. Listening to the same text message requires just 2 seconds of inattention.
Today's in-depth navigation and entertainment systems add a lot of value to the in-car experience. But in many cases the level of complexity has risen so high that they are actually a detriment to safety, as drivers focus on navigating context menus rather than the city traffic that surrounds them.
To make things safer, companies began introducing voice command systems, but until recently such systems have been inconvenient and laborious to use, thanks to fixed commands and limited functionality. With the advent of more advanced speech recognition software and more integrated applications, such as Ford's SYNC, Mercedes-Benz's COMAND or Lexus' new Enform, the intent is to keep the driver's eyes on the road, hands on the wheel and concentration focused.
"Our SYNC research backs up what most of us instinctively know -- that it is better while driving to place a call using a voice interface than dialing manually, because you can keep your hands on the wheel and eyes on the road," says Susan Cischke, Ford's group vice president of Sustainability, Environment and Safety Engineering.
Ford's data shows that drivers meandered over lane boundaries in at least 30% of cases where hand-held devises were used, as opposed to 0% when using SYNC voice commands to do the same things.
"These real-world results indicate that SYNC's voice-interface offers substantial advantages compared to using a hand-held device to do the same task," says Dr. Louis Tijerina, Ford senior technical specialist.
As self-serving as the study may seem, the findings coincide with a Virginia Tech and U.S. DOT study that involved 109 drivers and 42,300 hours on the road - over 2 million miles behind the wheel. The study found that using a hand-held device as 2.8 times more dangerous than normal driving, but that holding a conversation on the road was no more dangerous.
The findings are good news for SYNC buyers, or for buyers of cars with similar systems. It's also a testament to the double-edge nature of technological progress: some advances bring greater safety, while others bring greater risks. Another example of technology being used to rein in other technology include the DriveAssist phone service, which keeps drivers from texting at the wheel.