How To Make the Most of Voice-Activated Assistants

More research has come out that we drivers are a very distracted bunch; voice-activated assistants in our cars are marketed as tools to fight distracted driving. But voice-activated technology like Alexa and Siri can make drivers more distracted, not less. It just depends on how drivers choose to use this kind of tech.

These tips are designed to help drivers who already have a car with a digital assistant and those who are starting their search for a car with this kind of technology. If you’ve got an older-model car with voice-activated technology, here are a few need-to-knows to make the most of voice-activated assistants while staying focused:

  • Figure out if your system requires very specific phrases to complete tasks: One AAA study that looked closely at several voice-activated assistants found that when drivers need to think hard about using the right phrase to complete a task, it can take their minds off driving. Take a closer look at the manual to see if your system requires specific words to understand your commands. You may want to wait until your car is stopped or parked to talk to your assistant.
  • Take note if your digital assistant can listen and complete tasks quickly and error-free. Many drivers know the frustrations that come with a digital assistant that inaccurately hears a command — or doesn’t hear it at all! If you catch yourself repeating commands or undoing what the digital assistant does, you may increase your distraction levels. Instead, wait until you are at a stop to undo what your digital assistant did.

When it comes to finding older-model cars with strong voice-activated tech, CarGurus recommends the 2014 Mazda MAZDA3, which our reviewer gave 10/10 for Technology along with Safety. For midsize crossovers, CarGurus recommends the 2014 Kia Soul, which one reviewer describes as having a “powerful voice-control system. It allows the driver to make complex commands, such as saying an entire address in one command, rather than breaking it up.”

Our reviewers were less impressed with the 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA Class, noting that the system responds slowly to commands from the driver and had difficulty pairing with his phone. This was also true of the 2014 Subaru Forester, which our reviewer loved except for its “poor microphone reception…. This forces drivers who are trying to be safe by using the hands-free mode to switch over to using the actual phone. Not only is this microphone disappointing, it’s not safe.”

If you’ve got a newer-model car with voice-activated technology, you may have access to Apple CarPlay and Android Auto — or Siri and Google, respectively. These assistants have better comprehension than their predecessors, letting drivers speak naturally and stay focused on driving. While the tech may be newer, drivers aren’t free from distraction. Here’s how to minimize distraction with these digital assistants:

  • Avoid asking Alexa (or another assistant) to complete complicated tasks — like transcribing an email or responding to a text message — while driving. Yes, drivers can do this with digital assistants, but these tasks can be very distracting, as they require a hefty amount of brain power. Instead, have your digital assistant read you emails and text messages — but wait until you’ve stopped to respond.
  • Pay attention to how long it takes for these systems to complete tasks. While these digital assistants may understand you immediately, do they require complicated follow-up questions? Try to keep your interactions with your digital assistant brief to minimize distraction.

If you’re in the market for a newer-model car, CarGurus recommends the 2018 Toyota Camry and the 2018 Chevrolet Traverse, which features Chevy’s MyLink, an infotainment system that our reviewer raved was “one of the easiest to use in the industry, and it comes with everything from a 4G LTE Wi-Fi connection, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto to OnStar subscription services and programmable Teen Driver report-card technology.”

Our reviewers were less impressed with the 2018 Lexus 350 RX L, as it’s missing out on Android Auto and Apple CarPlay as well as Alexa integration. Add to that the 2018 Toyota Sienna. Our reviewer “was not dynamically impressed. Each time I tried to use the system to find a specific place for which I did know the specific address, it attempted to direct me to something that sounded similar in a different state.”

Do you use voice-activated assistants? How do you stay focused?

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