Reducing Driver Distraction from Voice-Controlled Apps

If you’ve ever driven a vehicle, you’ve probably done it—driven while distracted. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), distracted driving is not only commonplace but fatal, resulting in more than 3,000 deaths on average each year. Compared to visual-manual interfaces, voice-controlled apps have the potential to reduce how much drivers look away from the roadway.

But many voice-based apps still involve some form of visual, manual, or cognitive interaction, which has the potential to distract a driver’s attention. While there are NHTSA safety guidelines for visual-manual interfaces, there are no federal or industry guidelines or best practices for voice-controlled apps. Although the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) has established a method to measure cognitive distraction in voice-controlled systems while driving, there is no safety level attached to this measurement. Without set levels, how can vehicle manufacturers, app software developers, and other stakeholders determine how safe or unsafe a voice-controlled system is?
Exponent’s Human Factors team has the breadth of experience and skill to assess the safety of voice-based interfaces and reduce distraction risks. Leveraging the latest technologies, we can perform visual, manual, and cognitive distraction tests relative to a baseline using Detection Response Task (DRT) testing and a low-cost NHTSA visual occlusion method. For a more realistic testing environment, we have state-of-the-art test track facilities at our Phoenix Test and Engineering Center where we can use eye-tracking and DRT testing to assess visual and cognitive distraction. We have rare insight into NHTSA criteria and procedures, making us highly qualified to provide recommendations for reducing safety risks, improving app design, and performing safety assessments in response to litigation claims.

Our Human Factors team offers the following services for assessing voice-controlled systems and driver distraction:

  • Testing to NHTSA driver distraction guidelines using the driving simulator/tests track protocol and visual occlusion method, based on ISO 16673:2007(E)
  • On-road distraction assessments for visual attention using eye tracking
  • Cognitive distraction assessments using the DRT method based on ISO 17488:2016
  • Comparison testing of voice-controlled and visual-manual apps
  • Detailed task analyses of voice-controlled interactions
  • Voice-based app design recommendations.



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