Speech-to-text devices more dangerous than hand-held for drivers

Hands-free, speech-to-text devices are increasingly being incorporated into cars to help people SMS, make phone calls, or even use social media.

However, last year in Australia, Queensland Police revealed figures which claim that mobile phone-related distractions cause more road fatalities than any other commonly known driving threats, including speeding, fatigue and even alcohol.

Queensland Police's fact sheet says that even " ...hands-free mobile phone [use] while driving is four times more likely to have a serious crash resulting in hospital attendance".

A new, on-going study by the University of Utah, sponsored by the US AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, has furthered these claims, having found that speech-to-text devices in cars cause more distractions than listening to talk-back radio, music, simply conversing with passengers within the vehicle, and astonishingly, more than using hand-held devices.

"These findings reinforce previous research that hands-free is not risk-free," said AAA Foundation president and CEO Peter Kissinger.

Studying distraction

Three methods were used in the experiment for the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety study, using 38 participants (20 men and 18 women) for the first method, and 32 for the other two (22 men and 10 women; 12 men and 20 women).

The experiments involved driving without any other distractions, listening to the radio, listening to an audio book, talking to a passenger, talking on a hand-held mobile phone, talking through a hands-free device and using a speech-to-text device to send an email.

Triggers, cameras and special electroencephalographic (EEG)-configured skull caps were used to monitor participants and reaction times. The experiments were done using vehicle simulations and in real cars.

Fatal figures

The results of the experiment are a little surprising, as using a speech-to-text device was found to be more distracting than using a hand-held mobile device for calls.

"This clearly suggests that the adoption of voice-based systems in the vehicle may have unintended consequences that adversely affect traffic safety," the study stated.

Hands-free calls, however, was found to be less distracting, and near the same level as conversing with a passenger. Still, it was found to be twice as more distracting than just listening to the radio.

"Just because a new technology does not take the eyes off the road, does not make it safe to be used while the vehicle is in motion."

In Australia, it is illegal to use mobile phones while driving, and though using hands-free and speech-to-text devices are legal, police across the country are still discouraging any use of phones while driving.