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April 23, 2013

Voice-Activated Texting While Driving Just as Dangerous as Manual Texting, Study Finds

If you are using voice-to-text apps in the name of safety while behind the wheel, don’t bother.

Voice-activated texting is just a hazardous as its manual cousin when driving, according to a new study by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI).

The study compared the results of 43 volunteers, first while driving without distraction, then driving while texting and then driving while using voice-activated texting.

After driving the course without using a cellphone, participants were then asked to travel the same route three more times performing a series of texting exercises — once using each of two voice-to-text applications (Siri for the iPhone and Vlingo for Android), and once texting manually.

Researchers assessed the time it took for each volunteer to complete the tasks and made note of how long it took for each person to respond to a light which came on at random intervals during the exercises.

The findings were:

• Driver response times were notably delayed with all three texting methods. In each case, drivers took approximately twice as long to respond to what was going on around them as they did when their full focus was on the road.

“With slower reaction times, drivers are less able to take action in response to sudden roadway hazards, such as a swerving vehicle or a pedestrian in the street,” the study noted.

• The time spent looking at the roadway ahead was considerably less when drivers were texting both manually and with voice-activated.

• For most tasks, manual texting necessitated a little less time than the voice-to-text method, but driver performance was similar with both.

• Participants said they felt safer when using a voice-to-text app over texting manually, even though their performance suffered equally with both methods.

TTI Associate Transportation Researcher Christine Yager, who managed the study, says while the findings offer new insight, only a part of the knowledge that’s needed to improve roadway safety was revealed.

“Understanding the distracted driving issue is an evolving process, and this study is but one step in that process,” she says. “We believe it’s a useful step, and we’re eager to see what other studies may find.”

The study’s results are being published during National Distracted Driving Awareness Month.

Another TTI study, that is now in progress, is probing the motives and attitudes of distracted drivers. Results from the focus groups and a 3,000-driver survey are expected out in late summer. It will include a look at which demographic groups are most likely to be distracted behind the wheel.