Texting while driving. Image courtesy Texas A&M Transportation Institute

Texting while driving. Image courtesy Texas A&M Transportation Institute.

The first study to test drivers in an actual vehicle on a closed course finds that texting by voice while driving is not any safer than texting by hand. The study was sponsored by the Southwest Region University Transportation Center, a part of the University Transportation Centers Program, which is a federally funded program administered by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Research and Innovative Technology Administration.

The Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI) conducted the study with 43 research participants, in order to compare voice-to-text and manual texting on a handheld device in an actual driving environment, according to a TTI press release.

The study first had the drivers navigate the course without any use of cell phones, after which each participant drove through the course three more times, performing a series of texting exercises. One time they used each of two voice-to-text applications (Siri® for the iPhone and Vlingo® for Android), and once texting by hand. Researchers then measured how long it took each driver to do the tasks, and also how much time it took them to respond to a light that came on at random intervals during the exercises.

As Jim Forsyth writes for Reuters:

‘In each case, drivers took about twice as long to react as they did when they weren’t texting,’ Christine Yager, who headed the study, told Reuters. ‘Eye contact to the roadway also decreased, no matter which texting method was used.’ […]

Yager said speech-to-text actually took longer than traditional texting, due to the need to correct errors in the electronic transcription.

‘You’re still using your mind to try to think of what you’re trying to say, and that by proxy causes some driving impairment, and that decreases your response time,’ Yager said.

Yager told Reuters that her biggest concern is that the drivers felt safer while texting by voice, even though their driving performance was no better than during manual texting. “This may lead to a false belief that texting while driving using spoken commands is safe when in reality it is not, Yager said,” as Forsyth reports.

Among the study’s major findings:

  • Drivers who were texting (by either voice or hand) took about twice as long to react to sudden roadways hazards (like a swerving vehicle or a pedestrian in the street) than when they were not texting.
  • Drivers spent significantly less time looking at the roadway when they were texting, no matter which texting method they used.
  • Driver performance was roughly the same with both voice texting and manual texting, even though for most tasks, manual texting required slightly less time than the voice-to-text method.

The study’s results are being published during National Distracted Driving Awareness month, TTI notes, when many agencies are sponsoring public awareness campaigns to highlight the dangers of distracted driving, especially cell phone use. TTI expects to produce results in late summer of a study now in progress that examines which demographic groups are most affected by distracted driving.

Here is a video about the study comparing voice texting with manual texting:

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