DEARBORN, MI --- A new study by Ford shows that the automaker's SYNC hands-free system significantly reduces the level of distraction when drivers select a phone number or choose a song on their MP3 player, compared with the same operations with hand-held cell phones and music players, the company said.
For example, the research conducted by Ford Motor Co. shows study participants spent an average of 25 seconds with their eyes off the road to select a song with a handheld MP3 player, compared with two seconds for those choosing a song using SYNC, the company said.
Ford recently completed a driving simulator study with 25 participants who are regular SYNC users to compare driver performance and eye glance behavior effects of tasks performed using SYNC's voice interface as compared to using nomadic devices with visual-manual interfaces.
Test participants performed seven typical tasks using SYNC's voice interface and their personal handheld phones and music players. The tasks included dialing a 10-digit number, calling a specific person from the digital phonebook, receiving a call while driving, playing a specific song, and reviewing and responding to text messages. For each task, Ford researchers measured total eyes-off-the-road time, deviation of lane position, speed variability, and object detection response time to identify differences in attentiveness and driving performance while using basic functions.
"We know people want to stay connected in their vehicles, so Ford is continuing to deliver that connectivity for them responsibly and safely," said Susan Cischke, Ford's group vice president of sustainability, environment and safety engineering. "Our SYNC research backs up what most of us instinctively know -- that it is better while driving to place a call using a voice interface than dialing manually, because you can keep your hands on the wheel and eyes on the road."
Ford's researchers found that distraction potential for most tasks was significantly minimized when the SYNC voice interface was used as compared to the manual-entry required for handheld devices. For example, reading a text message on a handheld phone typically took the driver's eyes off the road for 11 seconds, compared to about two seconds when listening to the text message with SYNC's text-to-speech output. Drivers also meandered over lane lines in more than 30 percent of trials using handheld phones and music players for song, artist and phone book contact selection, as compared to zero percent when performing those same tasks with SYNC.
Ford's study results are consistent with prior research, such as Virginia Tech and the U.S. Department of Transportation's recent driving study, which followed 109 drivers for one year, including 42,300 hours of driving over two million miles. That study concluded that manually dialing a handheld device -- a task that requires looks away from the road -- while driving was almost 2.8 times riskier than normal driving. However, the on-the-road study showed that talking/listening on a phone while driving was no riskier than normal driving.
"These real-world results indicate that SYNC's voice-interface offers substantial advantages compared to using a handheld device to do the same task," said Dr. Louis Tijerina, Ford senior technical specialist.
SYNC, which recently earned Popular Mechanics' Editor's Choice Award for best new products at the 2009 International Consumer Electronics Show, allows consumers to connect almost any mobile phone or digital media player with their vehicle (via Bluetooth or USB connection). The driver is able to operate them by using voice commands and a steering wheel-mounted control.
By summer 2009, Ford's entire North American lineup will offer this technology with more than 1 million SYNC-equipped vehicles on the road by the third quarter of 2009.