Using electronic devices to send text messages and e-mail while driving is just as dangerous as texting the old fashioned way, according to research conducted at the Texas Transportation Institute at Texas A&M University.
So called 'voice to text' applications like iPhone's Siri, which allow drivers to speak a message and have the device convert it into a text and transmit it to the recipient are being perfected, many in response to outcries about the danger of texting while driving. This is the first study to compare voice to text and traditional texting on a handheld device in an actual driving environment.
"Driver response times were significantly delayed no matter which texting method was used," Christine Yager, who headed the study, told 1200 WOAI news. "In each case, drivers took about twice as long to react as they did when they weren't texting."
She says researchers had 43 participants drive along a test track normally without any electronic devices present, then while texting traditionally and again while using a speech-to-text device.
"Driver reaction times were nearly two times slower, no matter which texting method was used," Yager said. "Eye contact to the roadway also decreased, no matter which texting method was used."
She says 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 try to think of what you're trying to say, and that by proxy causes some driving impairment, and that decreases your response time."
But Yager says the biggest concern is that the driver 'felt safer' while using voice-to-text applications instead of traditional texting, even though driving performance was equally affecting. She says that may lead to a 'false belief' that texting while driving using spoken commands is safe when in reality it is not.
The Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association says 6.1 billion text messages per day were sent in the United States in 2012. 35% of drivers admit to reading a text of e-mail while driving in the past month, while 26% admitted to typing one.
Yager says driver response time was roughly two times slower when engaging in either spoken or written texting.
This is National Distracted Driving Awareness Month, and several state transportation departments have mounted campaigns to discourage texting while driving.
"Every day, new technologies come out, and it is important to educate the public that even these seemingly new distractions are still distractions, and it will help people be safer when they get into the vehicle," Yager said.