EVERY once in a while, just for laughs, Kevin Smith-Fagan tries to call a friend of his, Priscilla, using the voice-recognition system in his 2013 Chevrolet Volt. "I've tried it so many times and it never gets it right," said Mr. Smith-Fagan, an executive at a public television station in Sacramento. "It always thinks I'm saying 'Chris,' and I have like five people named Chris in my phone book, so it's always interesting to see who's getting the call." Voice control systems have been in cars for more than a decade, and great strides have been made in the technology's ability to understand human speech. But many people still find these systems too unreliable, or annoying, to use for more than the most simple tasks, like "Call Mom." That isn't stopping auto and tech companies from trying to give drivers the ability to do even more things by talking to their cars - while keeping their eyes on the road and hands on the wheel. The efforts have some added urgency now, as states pass stricter laws aimed at curbing distracted driving. Under a California law that went into effect Jan. 1, holding or operating a phone while driving is now prohibited.