Only the most sophisticated systems work consistently. And even the best ones have some persistent flaws: Women’s voices can be tricky for the technology to decipher, especially when using navigation, causing many female drivers to give up trying. Drivers with foreign accents say it won’t work for them. Even drivers with thick regional accents can have trouble.
Many issues with women’s voices could be fixed if female drivers were willing to sit through lengthy training, [car capitalist] Tom Schalk says. Women could be taught to speak louder, and direct their voices towards the microphone. But he admits that most customers don’t have the patience to figure it out, and are then easily discouraged. Even if a system successfully works 85 to 90 percent of the time, many drivers grow frustrated and call it a failure.
Safety advocates like the Governors Highway Safety Association say drivers are distracted by a growing number of gadgets that cause them to look away from the road, such as cellphones, MP3 players and GPS devices. They believe drivers’ divided attention is behind an increase in fatal accidents caused by distracted driving: Distracted driving was a factor in 16 percent of all fatal accidents in 2009, up from 10 percent in 2005, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Six percent of 2009’s U.S. auto-crash deaths, by the way, is 2,028.
The industrialists’ response to the blatant facts? The usual: the heroin dealer’s argument:
[S]afety advocates such as Jonathan Adkins, spokesman for the Governors Highway Safety Association, argue that too often, things go wrong, leaving drivers tinkering with display screens instead of watching the road.
“Why do we need to be doing this?” asks Adkins. “Driving is a really complex task; you have to be able to react to what other cars are doing. If you’re fiddling with these systems, it can be the difference between life and death.”
But the auto industry argues that drivers will never put away their phones and other devices, so voice-activated technology is the only option to keep drivers focused on the road.
In an attempt to make the technology less distracting, software developers are trying to make the process more natural. Ideally, drivers would feel like they are talking to a passenger in the car, says Tom Schalk, vice president of voice technology for auto supplier ATX Group.
Schalk says drivers will bring technology into their cars, even if it’s legally banned. They’ll continue talking on cellphones and twiddling with their GPS systems, looking away from the road while doing it.
The federal government’s approach to such felonious excuses?
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has met with the top executives at seven car companies, including General Motors, Ford, Toyota, and Honda, to discuss what the companies can do to keep distractions at a minimum.
LaHood won’t say whether he thinks voice recognition technology will solve the problem. He’s leaving it up to the industry to figure that out.
“We’re hoping that they’ll put their creative juices to work in helping us solve this very, very serious and dangerous problem,” he said during a recent press conference.
Yes, creative juices.
If it weren’t for the refusal to pass the obvious laws banning all telephony and texting while driving, the use of things like Ford Sync would also be manslaughter, from the point of view of the driver.
As it stands, the sponsored almost-manslaughter is a source of entertainment to some:
But sometimes the mistakes just turn into laughter. Anthony Castillo has a Ford Fusion, and generally loves the SYNC system. But when he wants to make his kids laugh, he tells it to call his wife, Amy.
Instead, it calls someone from Castillo’s phone book named Peter Schkeeper.
“It gets them laughing every time,” Amy Castillo says.