Hands-free Texting is as Dangerous as Manual Texting

Now that drivers can use voice-to-text applications, the dangers of driving while texting are old news, right? Not really, unfortunately. It turns out that both manual and hands-free texting result in double the lag time that it takes drivers to react to basic driving conditions, such as a change in the traffic light from red to green, according to a federally funded study by Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI).

The study by TTI measured and compared the reaction times of 43 drivers on a closed course while they drove without distractions, while they manually texted, and while they used hands-free texting apps. In a surprising turn, TTI actually found that hands-free texting took about twice as long as manual texting (this could be due to the hands-free texting technology being relatively new).

Not all states have strict rules on texting, so while this data is known to government agencies, it hasn’t been applied across the country. If you’re just about to start learning to drive, make sure you pick a school that emphasizes the rules of safety, not just the rule of law, as it’s tempting to become a distracted driver if there’s no penalty and you’re not highly aware of the dangers.

While it might take the driver less time to type out a text than to verbalize it, drivers are equally distracted while using both manual and hands-free texting—making the driver 23 times worse than while driving without distractions. It basically comes down to this: if your thoughts are on communication, they’re probably not on the road. Have you ever had a chatty passenger in your car? The kind that wants to tell you a juicy piece of gossip or show you Facebook photos of their latest crush while you’re trying to find parking?

Well, we drivers sometimes artificially create that gabby friend by texting with one! I’ve been guilty of it too. When I’m stuck in traffic, I feel like I’m wasting time. I feel compelled to pull out my phone and either catch up on emails that require a short answer, or check if the friends I’m meeting have reached the destination yet…even though I can find out safely in 5 minutes, once I arrive and park my car!

For many of us born after 1990, there’s never been a dull moment that couldn’t be made stimulating by a screen that instantly displays texts, Facebook messages, news, or etc. It’s pretty hard for many teens (and many adults) to choose staring at a stoplight over the immediate gratification of interacting with a human being.

I’ve found that listening to NPR is very helpful because it keeps me interested, yet I don’t have to do anything but drive to keep it going, while I can keep my eyes and attention on the road. If you have a super active mind and can relate to the desire to keep yourself entertained in the car, then you might want to read these tips to make sure you don’t swap one bad habit for another. Do you have any suggestions for how drivers can stay both engaged and alert behind the wheel?

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