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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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Joao-Pierre S. Ruth, Senior Writer