On the outside, it looked as if the texting while driving problem may have been resolved. Voice texting apps were introduced and they were thought to be a safer option than manual texting. Car manufacturers have even jumped on board by installing new technology into their vehicles that allows for voice-activated texting. After all, the driver’s hands should theoretically never leave the steering wheel, and because of that, voice texts should be safer to send than manual texts. As it turns out though, that isn’t the case after all.
Two independent studies, one conducted by Texas A & M University and another by AAA with the University of Utah, each yielded similar results. When a driver sends a voice-activated text it is no safer than when he or she sends a manual text
Texas A & M Study
It seems a bit counterintuitive that a voice-activated task would make a driver just as distracted as a completely manual task. But, Texas A & M University conducted a study and, to some, the results were surprising. On the test course, the reaction time of the subjects who were texting was double that of those who were driving undistracted. The result was the same for those who were voice texting and those who were manually texting. But, why was that?
In the A & M University test, the drivers who were texting manually had their eyes on the road ahead of them for an average of 27.2 seconds for every minute of driving. Drivers who were voice texting had their eyes on the road for an average of 28.6 seconds (Siri) and 25.8 seconds (Vlingo) for every minute of driving time. The average of 28.6 and 25.8 is 27.2 seconds, which means that the amount of time spent focusing on the text message was, on average, identical whether the driver was sending a manual text or a voice text.
The results of a comprehensive study done by AAA Insurance Company and the University of Utah seem to echo those of the Texas A & M study. In the AAA study, which focused on cognitive distractions, drivers were tested performing a series of common in car activities, such as talking on a cell phone (either hands free or handheld) or to a passenger, listening to audiobooks and music, and using voice-activated speech-to-text apps to send texts and e-mail. The results showed that, for all of the listed activities, those who send voice-activated texts and e-mail measured the highest level of distraction. On the workload rating scale used for the study, speech-to-text application use measured a 3.06 out of 5.0. The next most distracting activity was the use of a hand-held cell phone, which scored a 2.45 out of 5.
The reason voice texts are so distracting is that they aren’t completely hands free. The user has to bring up the app, speak the message (holding the phone to his or her mouth in many cases), and confirm the entry is correct before sending it. Those actions distract the driver on every level: manual, visual and cognitive.
One of the biggest takeaways from the studies conducted by both A & M University and AAA is that sending a voice-activated text can give the driver a false sense of safety. Both independent studies showed that voice texting is no safer than manual texting, and, in fact, voice texting causes much more of a distraction than many other in car activities.