Put your thumbs down and drive


I have a number of friends and business associates that believe they’re being more careful when they use the voice-to-text method rather than manual texting while driving.

That may seem safer, but new research findings suggest that voice-to-text applications offer no real safety advantage.

The study was sponsored by the Southwest Region University Transportation Center (SWUTC) and conducted by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI).

SWUTC is 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.


Actual driving

The first of its kind study was based on the performance of 43 research participants driving an actual vehicle on a closed course.

Other research efforts have evaluated manual versus voice-activated tasks using devices installed in a vehicle, but the TTI analysis is the first to compare voice-to-text and manual texting on a handheld device in an actual driving environment.

Drivers first navigated the course without any use of cell phones. Each driver then traveled the course 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 then measured the time it took each driver to complete the tasks, and also noted how long it took for the drivers to respond to a light which came on at random intervals during the exercises.

Major findings from the study included:

- Driver response times were significantly delayed no matter which texting method was used. In each case, drivers took about twice as long to react as they did when they weren’t texting.

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 amount of time that drivers spent looking at the roadway ahead was significantly less when they were texting, no matter which texting method was used.

- For most tasks, manual texting required slightly less time than the voice-to-text method, but driver performance was roughly the same with both.

- Drivers felt less safe when they were texting, but felt safer when using a voice-to-text application than when texting manually, even though driving performance suffered equally with both methods.

The only thing to do when behind the wheel is to pay attention to driving.