Telematics system developers ATX and OnStar are both touting studies conducted by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute. The studies indicate that for reducing driver distraction, voice is preferable to manual data entry for texting in a vehicle, and voice is also preferable to manual methods for entering navigation destinations.
According to the studies, the number of eye glances to the mobile phone for manual texting was 20 times the number of glances to the button that initiates voice texting. The percentage of time a driver’s eyes were off the road was shorter when using the voice interface than with comparable tasks using a handheld phone. All handheld tasks required significantly more mental workload demand – more than double on average – than voice-based tasks. Also, according to the study, voice-based systems essentially erased the gap that exists between younger and older drivers in driving performance when using handheld devices.
Some say the method a driver uses for texting in a moving vehicle is irrelevant because texting is distracting by definition and automakers should not enable the feature. Similarly, hands-free calling is considered by many to be no safer than handheld cell phone use since phone calls are more distracting than conversations with passengers who provide a second (or third or fourth) pair of eyes to alert the driver to danger.
These arguments imply that technology is the problem, not the solution, and they make no allowance for the content of the call or conversation. Is calling a spouse to say “I should be home by 6pm,” or conveying the same message via voice text, more distracting than a major confrontation with someone in the car?
Drivers must take personal responsibility for avoiding all sources of distraction and technology can be more of a help than a hindrance. Automakers and suppliers are devoting a lot of thought and effort to enabling smartphone apps safely and evidence suggests that voice interfaces are part of the solution.