A large part of the rationale for equipping automobiles with voice-activated software is concern for safety, as voice commands and voice-to-text messaging are supposedly safer than fumbling with a smartphone while driving. But that’s not actually true.
A study from the Texas Transportation Institute at Texas A&M University found that voice texting is just as distracting to
drivers as manual texting.
The Texas A&M study looked at driver response times while using manual texting, as well as voice-to-text software developed for the iPhone and Android smartphones. It found that drivers navigating a closed course with stoplights displayed a comparable level of distraction -- and therefore delayed response time -- regardless of which system they were using.
In both cases, the average reaction time was twice as long as when the driver was not sending messages, and eye-tracking technology showed the amount of time spent looking away from the
road was about the same.
These findings echo other data which suggests that the cognitive effort involved in sending a text message presents a serious distraction no matter what system is used. One study from Carnegie Mellon found that using a mobile device reduces the amount of brain activity devoted to driving by 37%; another study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute showed little benefit from using a headset with mobile devices.
According to statistics from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration, around 3,300 people died in accidents caused by distracted driving in 2011, and 18% of all accidents involved distracted driving. A separate study from Monash University found that drivers who use handheld devices are four times more likely to get into accidents resulting in serious personal injury.
Texting while driving remains common, despite state laws forbidding manual use of mobile devices behind the wheel. A study by the AAA found that a third of drivers had recently read a text message or email while driving, and 26% had sent one while driving.