Distracted driving is a contributing factor in thousands of auto accidents each year in the United States alone. Many states have already passed or are considering legislation to ban sending text messages while driving. But some smartphones allow the user to speak text messages aloud, which the phone then transcribes into a text message. Generally, state laws against texting while driving appear not to prohibit the use of the voice-to-text, or voice transcription features. Similarly, existing laws regulating cell phone conversations while driving generally allow conversations via hands-free devices. Therefore, the legislative bias appears to be in favor of keeping the driver’s hands on the wheel as opposed to eliminating distractions.
Perhaps legislators are simply focusing on passing more practical and politically palatable laws instead of more stringent ones. Or perhaps they truly believe that hands-free devices eliminate or significantly reduce the distraction mobile gadgets present. Drivers who text while using hands-free devices would probably agree that doing so keeps them safer than they otherwise would be. But does it really?
According to a recently-published study by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI), the answer is no. The study is the first to compare manual texting to voice-to-text using a handheld phone during actual driving. The performance of 43 drivers on a closed course was measured first without any cell phone use, then while using a voice-to-text application, and finally while entering a text message manually. Researchers measured how long it took drivers to send the messages. They also measured reaction times by recording how long drivers took to respond to a light that turned on during the exercises at random intervals.
The results showed that driver response times increased significantly during text entry regardless of the entry method. In each case, reaction times nearly doubled. Interestingly, researchers found that both methods of entering text messages caused the drivers to spend significantly less time with their eyes on the road.
Contrary to what you might expect, the study showed that voice-to-text entry required slightly more time than manual entry. But during that time, driver performance took the same hit regardless of the method. Crucially, despite each of the texting methods impacting ability the same way, drivers reported feeling safer when using the voice-to-text feature.
A distracted driver is a dangerous driver. You owe it to yourself and your loved ones to keep not only your hands on the wheel but your mind on the road around you. Eliminate or reduce your distractions whenever possible. And drive defensively, because even if your car has an attentive driver at the wheel, you can be assured some other car does not.