Len Klie

Safer with Voice? Why Not Avoid Texting All Together?

A new study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute and automotive telematics systems manufacturer ATX Group found that interactive voice systems used for outbound text messaging reduced levels of driver distraction compared to manually texting on a smartphone.

The main conclusion made by the study is that the voice applications only reduced—and certainly did not eliminate— those periods when hands are off the steering wheel and eyes are off the road. This is supported with eye glance data: For manual texting, the number of eye glances to the mobile phone was 20 times the number of glances to the initiating button required for the outbound voice texting and eye glance durations and the percentage of time a driver’s eyes were off the road were shorter using the voice interface.

VVTI also found that handheld tasks required more than twice the mental workload demand than voice-based tasks. Similar findings were also recorded for frustration levels, a measurement that correlates with stress and annoyance in the performance of tasks. Drivers’ self-perceived awareness of their surrounding environment was also higher when engaged in voice-based tasks as compared to those completed manually.

Thomas Schalk, ATX’s vice president of voice technologies, was, of course, pleased with the findings, but also approached the data with caution. “While we can’t conclude at this point that voice interfaces eliminate driver distraction, the data indicates that voice can certainly reduce the risk,” he said in the article.

So here’s a novel idea: If you want to completely eliminate the risk, avoid texting behind the wheel altogether. Not only is it now illegal in many states, but I think your wife would prefer it if you made it home to dinner late and didn’t tell her rather than not at all.