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Safer voice-controlled systems could cut driver distraction, says TRL

Advances in voice-activated systems for in-car controls could significantly improve safety for drivers and other road users, according to research by the UK’s Transport Research Laboratory (TRL).

Driver distraction is estimated to be a factor in up to 30% of vehicle collisions across Europe

A key issues for fleets, driver distraction is estimated to be a factor in up to 30% of vehicle collisions across Europe and evidence shows that driver distraction levels are much higher when using touchscreen technologies compared to voice-activated systems.

But in a webinar held this week, TRL has said further research is necessary to steer the use of spoken instructions as the safest method for future in-car control and is pushing the automotive industry to think about the improvements required to make infotainment systems safe to use.

TRL, which has recently authored a report into the impacts of in-vehicle infotainment systems such as Android Auto and Apple CarPlay on driving performance, says improving voice-activated systems through the use of solutions such as conversational artificial intelligence (AI) could make such systems could become less distracting for drivers.

While current voice control systems only understand a set of key commands, conversational AI enables speech interfaces to operate at a complex level, expanding forms of dialogue to enable a versatile, natural interaction.

And such developments could have significant benefits when it comes to safety.

Dr Neale Kinnear, head of behavioural science at TRL, said: “The results of this study clearly show that touch control infotainment systems are highly distracting to drivers, far more so than voice-activated systems. However, even current voice control systems increase drivers’ reaction times and remains a concern for road safety.

“This is why TRL is recommending that we put our efforts into developing a framework for testing and improving the human factors of such systems. This includes improving voice activation as a method of control, as this has the opportunity to greatly reduce the workload on a driver thanks to innovations being made in conversational Artificial Intelligence.”

TRL has also set out how it would like to see safety standards improved around infotainment systems, not just by their definition, but also through the harmonisation of standards across the entire transport sector.

Dr Kinnear concluded: “Driver distraction is widely recognised as an important road safety issue; the more attention a driver diverts away from the main driving task, the more their driving behaviour will be negatively affected. To improve the use and safety impact of in-vehicle technologies, an agreed framework for testing is required to which system manufacturers can demonstrate their safe use before bringing to market. Alongside improvements in voice-activated systems, there is opportunity to improve systems so that we don’t make the driving task more complicated in the future.”

To access the TRL webinar, click here.

For more of the latest industry news, click here.

Natalie Middleton

Natalie has worked as a fleet journalist for nearly 20 years, previously as assistant editor on the former Company Car magazine before joining Fleet World in 2006. Prior to this, she worked on a range of B2B titles, including Insurance Age and Insurance Day.