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Hands-Free Texting Is Safer . . . Right?

In a recent article, we discussed the results of a study that looked at how hands-free technology could positively impact distracted driving. Unfortunately, the study highlighted numerous dangers. One of the most dangerous distractions, texting, is the focal point of a new study conducted by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute.

What were they looking for? What did they find?

The study, sponsored by the Southwest Region University Transportation Center (SWUTC), specifically examined whether voice-to-text applications offered any real safety advantage over manual texting while driving. Face value, a reader's first reactions will likely be "Certainly a talking-text activity would be safer than typing-text." The Institute wasn't convinced.

In the study, 43 research participants drove an actual vehicle on a closed course four times.

  • Driving with no distractions
  • Driving while texting using iPhone's voice-to-text app
  • Driving while texting using Android's voice-to-text app
  • Driving while manually texting

The study found that:

  • "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 then when texting manually, even though driving performance suffered equally with both methods."

While all of these results are troubling, the final bullet point might be the most troubling point of all. Since a driver feels safer - more in control - when using a voice-to-text application, it is likely that he or she might become more comfortable or lax in the act of driving itself. A false sense of confidence can quickly lead to feelings of "I can handle this," or "I don't need to be as vigilant in paying attention to the road." This type of thinking represents the jump from distracted driving to negligent driving.

Any distraction, whether it is manual, visual or cognitive, can be disruptive and potentially deadly. With so many vehicles crowding our Georgia roads, it is crucial that drivers recognize when their attention is pulled away from safely driving.

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