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Dictating While Driving: As Dangerous As Typing

Study shows that drivers who use voice-to-text services to dictate text messages are just as impaired as those who type them.

Many drivers think it's safer to dictate rather than type text messages when you're behind the wheel. Those drivers are wrong, according to a new study from the Texas Transportation Institute at Texas A&M University.

The study compared drivers who used voice-to-text services to compose messages to those who used the traditional tap-on-the-screen method. "In each case, drivers took about twice as long to react as they did when they weren't texting," study author Christine Yager told Reuters. "Eye contact to the roadway also decreased no matter which texting method was used."

The study involved 43 drivers who were asked to navigate a course three times: with no texting, with voice-to-text dictation, and again with on-screen typing. According to Yager, drivers using voice-to-text systems actually took longer to compose messages due to the time needed to correct mistakes made by the voice recognition software.

"You're still using your mind 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," Yager explained. The alarming thing is that people have the misconception that speaking their messages to the phone is better than typing them. That misconception may lead drivers to send more messages when they're behind the wheel.

[ Who's most guilty of texting while driving? Hint: It's not teenagers. Read Texting While Driving: Teens Not Top Offenders. ]

Too many people are still texting and talking while driving.

A study from AT&T, SKDKnickerbocker and Beck Research published earlier this month showed that more business professionals than teenagers are now texting while driving. Worse, 98% of those surveyed said they understand how dangerous texting while driving is, but they admitted to doing it anyway.

Half of commuters send text messages or emails when behind the wheel, compared to 43% of teenagers. Six out of 10 commuters polled said three years ago they never would have sent messages when driving, and 40% admitted that the behavior has become a habit.

Texting isn't the only dangerous behavior drivers engage in with their cell phones when they're behind the wheel. A California court ruled earlier this month that checking smartphone maps violates the state's "using a cell phone when driving" rules. A driver there had been pulled over when caught using the navigation features on his handset. He appealed, saying the law applies to making phones calls. In the end, he lost.

"Every day, new technologies come out," said Yager, "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."

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Martin Middelmann
Martin Middelmann,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/23/2013 | 3:10:37 PM
re: Dictating While Driving: As Dangerous As Typing
Smartphones have horrible usability. One must be staring directly at then in order to accomplish any task. That is a result of poor interfaces on a touch screen device.

At least with feature phone in the past, you could dial a number by feel and never have to look at the phone.

Even the interface for navigation on Smartphones is lacking. My dedicated Garmin Nuvi is so much easier to operate than navigation on my smartphone. (not to mention the smartphones tent to overheat and fail when resting in a wind shield mount.)

People should be paying attention to operating the 1,000+ lb. metal object that could kill people is not used properly rather than what ever they feel necessary to do on a Smart Phone.

What is so freakin' important that it can't wait?

Driving used to be a relaxing escape into the spacial regions of the brain (yes, even in traffic). Trying to use a phone takes people away from using that spacial region and that severy impares driving.
User Rank: Apprentice
4/23/2013 | 3:17:39 PM
re: Dictating While Driving: As Dangerous As Typing
Lets clear up all of the 'distracted while driving' shenanigans. The accident rate today is the same as it was ten and twenty years ago. And less than it was 30 years ago. If using a phone increased the odds of an accident, the accident rate would have gone up in lock step with the adoption of phones in cars. But it didn't.

Why? I learned to drive in the 70's. We had bad drivers then, people eating, drinking, smoking, putting on makeup, playing with the radio and 8 track player, reading bill boards, checking out hotties in the next car or on the sidewalk, etc. We just changed one set of distractions for another. Take the phone away, we'll find something else to play with while being bored behind the wheel.

A few years back when California wanted to pass legislation banning cell phone use while driving, they asked the CHP to come up with supporting data. The CHP was unable to do so, noting that there was no correlation (let alone causation) between phone use and accident rates. So they changed the metric to be that it was a phone related accident if a phone was present in either vehicle, in use or not. That worked.
Deirdre Blake
Deirdre Blake,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/23/2013 | 7:02:06 PM
re: Dictating While Driving: As Dangerous As Typing
I hadn't heard that story about phone usage and accident rates in California, where can I find the study?
User Rank: Apprentice
4/23/2013 | 8:02:58 PM
re: Dictating While Driving: As Dangerous As Typing
There's a pretty decent series called "Brain Games" running on NatGeo. Although the brain is quite phenomenal, it is easily distracted and can really only focus on one thing at a time.
Nathan Golia
Nathan Golia,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/23/2013 | 8:03:13 PM
re: Dictating While Driving: As Dangerous As Typing
Hm, the numbers in this comment seem to check out from some census data I found. But I definitely have seen a correlation between erratic driving and device usage, even here in Brooklyn where erratic driving is the norm. In addition, when I for some reason have to use a smartphone while driving Gă÷ something I try very hard to avoid Gă÷ I definitely do not feel as in control of the car as I do when I'm changing the radio or reading a billboard. It's true that this is anecdotal, but I still think using a device while driving should be discouraged and avoided.
Thomas Claburn
Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
4/23/2013 | 10:51:05 PM
re: Dictating While Driving: As Dangerous As Typing
Trying to change stations or input sources on the car radio is at least as distracting.
Leo Regulus
Leo Regulus,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/24/2013 | 6:49:10 PM
re: Dictating While Driving: As Dangerous As Typing
Thank you for your comments.

What we are really talking about here is 'deliberate distracted driving'.

It matters little if you are texting, talking or attending a misbehaving child in the back seat. All of these practices are as dangerous as driving under the influence.

Multi-tasking of any kind has no place behind the wheel of a vehicle moving oin the highway.

Thank you for keeping ALL of your attention on the road.
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