Voice Assistants Worse Than Drink-Driving, Study Suggests

Using in-car voice activated assistants has been questioned with latest safety research showing hands-free phone operation is as dangerous as driving above legal alcohol limits.

A study by the UK’s Transport Research Laboratory has echoed previous research that a driver’s reaction times while using a Bluetooth phone connection reduce to the level of being over the drink-drive limit in the country. This means any voice interaction with the vehicle through assistants currently employed by some carmakers, such as Amazon Alexa or Apple Siri, will have a similar effect and probably increase accidents caused by driver distraction.

TRL point out that despite a reduction in the number of fatal road collisions during the years 2007-2012, figures have plateaued with no reduction in the past five years. At the same time, increased in car connectivity has been blamed for a rise in road traffic deaths last year in the US with fatalities now accounting for nearly 40,000 lives annually.

This week, the UK government’s Transport Committee held an evidence session to assess if the laws on using a mobile phone while driving are fit for purpose. TRL’s Chief Scientist, Dr Shaun Helman, spoke to the committee around the risks of drivers using a mobile phone and presented findings around the latest research, including:

  • Evidence shows that there is no difference in the extent of distraction when comparing hand-held phone use and hands-free phone use owing to the cognitive distraction placed on the driver;
  • Using a mobile phone while driving, either hands free or hand-held, is the same as being just above the legal limit of alcohol in terms of distraction;
  • It is vital for current legislation to be updated to reflect advances in mobile phones and in-car technology.

In a statement, TRL said: “However, changing legislation is not a complete solution; there is a need for better data, in-depth crash investigation work and a robust approach to enforcement and education to increase public perception of the true dangers associated with mobile phone use.”

— Paul Myles is a seasoned automotive journalist based in London. Follow him on Twitter @Paulmyles_


  1. Avatar Kerry Lebel 17th June 2019 @ 7:40 pm

    This article is complete click-bait and has nothing to do with voice assistance. Nice job guys on providing useless content.

    • TU-Editor TU-Editor 18th June 2019 @ 6:58 am

      On the contrary, the TRL’s Dr Helman has confirmed to us that voice assistants, along with other in-car auto technology, do pose a real risk if poorly designed. His more detailed comments will be published shortly.

  2. Avatar Edmund Browalski 17th June 2019 @ 9:09 pm

    Has there been studies regarding driver distraction while conversing with passengers or reading roadside billboards?

  3. Avatar Michael Pavek 18th June 2019 @ 2:45 pm

    Very interesting although I suspect that the amount of cognitive distraction is also related to how intuitive the voice assistant is. I’d like to see the study report. For example, there is a huge difference between current phone’s Google Assistant and my 2012 Toyota Sienna Voice “Assistant.” Were comparative studies done between different voice assistants? Will a voice assistant that has increased situational awareness further reduce the cognitive distraction or even potentially improve it by alerting the driver?

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