Researchers studying texting while driving have discovered that voice texting is no less distracting to drivers than manual texting and actually takes longer.
The research was done at Texas A&M's 2,000-acre Riverside Campus, which is situated on the site of a former World War II Air Force base west of the main campus.
It serves as a research hub for a number of entities, including the Texas A&M Transportation Institute.
Recently, TTI initiated the study on texting and driving, with the theory that voice texting would be less distracting to drivers than manual texting.
TTI Associate Transportation Researcher Christine Yager headed up the study and was under the impression that drivers would keep their eyes on the road more often during a voice text than with a manually entered text.
She proposed the research to determine if that was true.
"Understanding the issue of distracted driving is a constantly evolving process," Yager said.
The course was a test track on a vacant air strip at the Riverside Campus.
The test car was equipped with cameras and an eye-tracking system to measure driver distraction.
Driver distraction was also measured through the driver’s response to a light placed on the dashboard. The light lit up at random times during a test drive. The driver was instructed to press a button upon seeing the light.
Researchers then measured how long it took the driver to see the light and press the button.
Their research subjects drove the test course once without texting, once while texting manually and then once each using the two most popular voice texting applications.
Researchers found that drivers' speeds dropped while texting and that they swerved out of their lanes.
"Drivers were looking at the roadway significantly less often no matter which texting method was used," Yager said.
In fact, she found that driver response times were twice as slow while texting.
But they also found voice texting was no less distracting than manual texting. Yager said manual texting was better in one way.
"It took drivers longer to complete the same text messaging task when they were using the voice-to-text application, which is a little counterintuitive," Yager said.
She quoted Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, saying the average text takes 4.6 seconds.
“You can travel the length of a football field at highway speeds,” Yager said.
And she reminded drivers that on the highway, a lot can happen in that time span.