It may seem that using a voice-to-text application would be safer than actually typing a message on a smartphone while driving. But a study released this week suggests that they're equally dangerous.
The Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI) evaluated the performance of 43 test drivers and discovered that their "response times were significantly delayed no matter which texting method was used," according to the report, which was sponsored by the federally funded Southwest Region University Transportation Center.
"In each case (whether with voice-only or manual texting), drivers took about twice as long to react as they did when they weren't texting," according to the study. "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."
Researchers had drivers navigate a course under controlled conditions. After a text-free run, they were then told to take the route again and send a message using two prominent voice-to-text applications, Siri for the iPhone and Vlingo for smartphones with the Android operating system. The next run was for manual texting. Researchers then compared how long it took for participants to complete the messages, while also noting reaction times to a distracting dashboard light that randomly flashed during the test. (See: "The 411 on cellphone tickets.")
Beyond the similar results for both type-texting and voice-texting, the study found that:
While the results provide insight, the study's lead researcher concedes that more scientific testing needs to be done to fully grasp texting's hazards. "Understanding the distracted driving issue is an evolving process, and this study is but one step in that process," Christine Yager, TTI researcher, said in a statement. "We believe it's a useful step, and we're eager to see what other studies may find."
The U.S. Department of Transportation this week also issued voluntary guidelines to establish safety criteria for electronics devices installed in cars by auto makers. The recommendations are aimed at devices that require drivers to take their hands off the wheel or eyes off the road when using them.
The department's guidelines include recommendations to limit the time a driver must take his eyes off the road to perform any task to 2 seconds at a time and 12 seconds total. The guidelines also recommend disabling several operations unless the vehicle is stopped and in park, such as:
The recommendations outlined in the guidelines echo findings of an April National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) driving study, "The Impact of Hand-Held and Hands-Free Cell Phone Use on Driving Performance and Safety-Critical Event Risk." Visual-manual tasks associated with handheld phones and other mobile devices increased the risk of getting into a crash by three times, according to the study. (See: "Got a ticket? You could be paying for years.")
Text messaging, browsing, and dialing took drivers' eyes off the road longest. Texting increased the risk of a crash or near-crash by two times and resulted in the driver's eyes off the road for an average of 23.3 seconds total. Visual-manual activities performed when completing a phone call -- such as reaching for a phone, looking up a contact and dialing the number -- increased the risk by three times.
Of the 3,092 people killed in distraction-affected crashes in 2012, 408, or 13 percent, occurred in crashes in which at least one of the drivers was using a cellphone at the time of the crash, says the report.
Whether or not your car insurance rates will go up if you get a ticket for texting depends a lot on your insurer, as well as on your state laws. As of now, 39 states have banned texting and driving, while others have partial restrictions, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. If you're ticketed in a state where texting violations add points to your driving record or are considered moving violations, an insurer may raise your premiums. See "Texting tickets and car insurance rates" for a full list of state texting provisions."
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