Study Finds No Benefit in Voice-to-Text Technology

Drivers' response times were just as delayed and their performance just as affected by it as by standard texting, the Texas A&M Transportation Institute found.

A new study confirms voice-to-text technology is just as distracting for drivers as standard texting, meaning it offers no real safety advantage. The study was sponsored by the Southwest Region University Transportation Center and conducted by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, which released it April 23.

TTI said this is the first study comparing voice-to-text and manual texting on a handheld device in an actual driving environment. It was based on the performance of 43 research participants driving a vehicle on a closed course, as shown in this video. The drivers first navigated the course without any use of cell phones, then drove it three more times performing a series of texting exercises -- once using each of two voice-to-text applications (Siri® for the iPhone and Vlingo® for Android) and once texting manually. Researchers measured the time it took each driver to complete the tasks and how long it took for the drivers to respond to a light which came on at random intervals.

The researchers found drivers' response times were significantly delayed no matter which texting method was used; they took about twice as long to react as they did when they were not texting. Also, the amount of time drivers spent looking at the road ahead was significantly less when they were manually texting or using voice-to-text. "For most tasks, manual texting required slightly less time than the voice-to-text method, but driver performance was roughly the same with both," TTI reported, adding that drivers felt less safe when they were texting but safer when using a voice-to-text application than when texting manually, even though their driving performance suffered equally with both.

Christine Yager, a TTI associate transportation researcher, managed the study. "Understanding the distracted driving issue is an evolving process, and this study is but one step in that process. We believe it's a useful step, and we're eager to see what other studies may find," she said in TTI's news release.

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