Drivers Beware, Siri is Dangerous

October 04, 2011 by John Oliver

Apple, Inc. introduced some interesting new hardware and software upgrades at their highly anticipated iPhone announcement this afternoon. In addition to things like new camera technology and a faster processor, Apple unveiled a new built-in, voice-activated tool called Siri.

You can read all about Siri on Apple's website, but in a nutshell, you ask Siri a question or provide a command and it will automatically retrieve an answer or fulfill your command. For example, you can ask Siri something like, "What is the hourly forecast today?" and it will automatically detect where you are and provide you with a full forecast for the day. You can also give it a command like, "On October 12th remind me that it's John's birthday" and Siri will automatically add a reminder to your calendar.

I've had an opportunity to test previous versions of Siri, and it works remarkably well. This voice activated technology is very exciting, and it will be interesting to see how quickly other mobile software companies like Google, Microsoft, and RIM will follow suit.

But while I'm excited about all of the ways that this new technology will make my life easier, I have major concerns about how all of this may boost the confidence of an already over-confident generation of distracted drivers.

Voice-to-Text is Still Distracted Driving

One of the ground-breaking features of Siri is that in addition to regurgitating basic commands, it can also perform complex transcription tasks. So, theoretically, you can be driving down the interstate, press a single button and say, "Email John Oliver: Hey, have you finished writing that blog post on the dangers of texting while driving?" and Siri will compose the email for you.

I find this all to be a bit terrifying.

I think a large percentage of drivers out there will see these technological advancements as an excuse to keep multi-tasking while behind the wheel. All of the progress that has been made in preventing texting while driving car accidents could be erased in a few short months.

Granted, transcribing does require less of our attention than texting does, but the distraction is there all the same. First of all, drivers will still need to take their eyes off of the road to press the "Send" button. And more importantly, how many people will really be content with speaking into their phones, trusting Siri to do an accurate job of understanding everything they say, and then send that message without proofreading? Anyone that's ever used transcription software knows that it's far from perfect and is often riddled with grammatical and spelling errors. So, in the end, the driver is still going to end up looking down at their phone to read and make corrections.

How do we ensure the progress we've made isn't lost?

At this point in time, talking on a hand-held phone is banned in 10 states, the use of phones by novice drivers is banned in 30 states, and text messaging is banned for all drivers is 34 states. Visit the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) for more information and a state map of texting while driving bans.

We want to hear from you!

Do you think voice-to-text technology is actually a step forward for safe driving? Do you think technology like Siri on the iPhone should be included in the statewide distracted driving bans?

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