NEW YORK - A new Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) study lends further evidence that voice-controlled Ford SYNC helps drivers minimize electronics-related visual distractions compared to manually operating hand-held cell phones and music. 

The study by VTTI will be released April 15 in Detroit at the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) World Congress during a panel discussion titled, "Human Factors in Driving and Automotive Telematics." The study supports the institute's growing body of research on driver distraction and as well as a similar Ford study in 2009. 

In the new Ford-commissioned VTTI study, 21 drivers -- age 19 to 51 who were familiar with SYNC -- drove a Mercury Mariner while initiating a call, selecting music tracks and having phone conversations using the hands-free, voice-controlled system. For the purpose of comparison, the participants also completed the same tasks manually using their own mobile phones and portable music players in the same vehicle. 

The study concluded that drivers were able to dial and complete other tasks more quickly and with less eyes-off-road time when using SYNC. At the same time, drivers manually operating phones and digital music players steered more erratically and looked away from the roadway for longer periods of time. 

"This study suggests that keeping drivers' eyes on the road as much as possible is important for maintaining safe vehicle control, which is in line with recent naturalistic driving research," said Shane McLaughlin, research scientist for the Center for Automotive Safety Research at Virginia Tech Transportation Institute. 

When study participants initiated a call, hand-held operation required more than 2.5 times as many glances away from the road and more than four times longer in total eyes-off-road time than when drivers used SYNC. For MP3 player song selection, hand-held operation required more than six times as many task-related glances than SYNC, and took more than 10 times longer in total eyes-off-road time. 

"We know that people are going to have phone conversations and listen to music while they drive, and this research backs up what most of us instinctively know -- that while driving, it is better to place a call or select a song using a voice interface instead of doing it manually," said Sue Cischke, Ford group vice president of sustainability, environment and safety engineering. 

VTTI's new study is consistent with the "100-Car Naturalistic Driving Study," completed in 2005 for the U.S. Department of Transportation. The study followed 109 drivers for one year and tracked more than 42,300 hours of driving data collected with over 2 million miles driven. 

The 100-Car Study concluded that manually dialing a hand-held device while driving -- a task that requires looking away from the road -- was almost 2.8 times riskier than normal driving. The study also showed that talking and listening on a phone while driving pose a similar risk to normal driving. 

"VTTI's real-world and controlled study results indicate that SYNC's voice interface offers substantial advantages compared to manually using a hand-held device to do the same task," said Dr. Louis Tijerina, Ford senior technical specialist.