Voice apps don't make texting while driving any safer: study
Freshman student Ben Fisher texts and virtually drives in the Texting and Driving Simulator at Central York High School in Pennsylvania on March 8, 2013. (York Daily Record / Sonya Paclob)
Angela Mulholland, CTVNews.ca
Published Saturday, April 27, 2013 7:30AM EDT
Think it's safer to go hands-free when you want to text while driving? Think again.
A new study finds that voice-to-text smartphone apps don't make you any safer a driver than those who choose to manually text while driving.
The study looked at 43 drivers who were asked to drive a closed course. The first time they drove the course, they did were behind the wheel without texting.
They then drove the track three more times: once using the Vlingo voice-to-text application on an Android phone; once with the Siri app on an iPhone; and once more while texting the old-fashioned way, with their fingers.
The drivers were tested on their ability to send a text, to read a text and then reply to it, and their ability to simply have a text read to them while driving.
Researchers from Texas A&M's Transportation Institute measured the time it took each driver to complete the texts, as well as how long it took them to react to a light that came on at random during the exercises.
That test, which involved hitting a button on the dashboard when the drivers saw the light, was meant to replicate a driver's need to scan the road and react to swerving cars or others hazards, such as pedestrians.
The researchers found that no matter which texting method the drivers used, their response times were always significantly delayed compared to when they drove without texting.
In each case, drivers took much longer to react to the dashboard light -- about twice as long -- as they did when they weren't texting. Eye scanners also determined that drivers looked at the road a lot less when they were texting, no matter which method was used.
The drivers also slowed down during all the texting tasks compared to when they drove without texting, with drivers fluctuating their speed the most during manual, hands-on texting.
For the most part, texting manually was faster than using the voice-to-text method, but drivers' performance was about the same with both methods. That's partially because the drivers still felt compelled to proofread their dictated texts before allowing the voice-to-text apps to send them.
The researchers also asked a larger group of participants about how safe they felt while texting. Most drivers said they felt less safe overall.
But they also said they felt safer using a voice-to-text app than when texting manually -- even though their driving performance suffered equally with both methods.
"These findings suggest that using voice-to-text applications to send and receive text messages while driving do not increase driver safety compared to manual texting," the researchers conclude.
But they add it's clear that driving performance suffered in all of the texting tests, "which means that texting is not an activity that should be coupled with driving."