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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

A safer way to text and drive



Texting and driving. It seems we hear about it constantly now, as more and more people are carrying smartphones and communicating through SMS (Short Message Service) messaging. And it's not just text. With Facebook, Twitter and other social media accounts we're texting more than we're talking. Look around the next time you're at a traffic light. See that person hunched over, looking at their phone and frantically tappity tapping with their thumbs? They're texting. Do you do it? Come on, be honest. Have you done it at least once? 

Well I'm coming out. I text and drive, although I do it much less than I used to. When I started it was with a "that won't happen to me" attitude, convincing myself that because I hold my iPhone at the top of the steering wheel and use it without looking down, I would be OK. Then as more and more tragic accidents happened caused by texting at the wheel, I changed my habits. I started texting only at lights and on Interstates where the traffic was really spread out. Still, I wanted a better solution and knew there must be technology that could help.

Statistically, text messaging while driving produces a much higher risk of an accident than talking on your phone. A study last year by the VirginiaTech Transportation Institute showed that when texting you are 23% more likely to have an accident and some studies show texting to impair your reaction time more so than DWI. DWT (driving while texting) is now the #1 killer on our roads. Here are some more statistics:

Texting while Driving Facts and Statistics

  • According to a study conducted, teenagers and youngsters are more susceptible to car crashes and fatal road accidents.
  • If you are writing or reading text messages, your reaction time in case of emergency reduces by approximately 35%.
  • One of the most surprising texting while driving facts is that this activity is more dangerous than driving under the influence of alcohol or marijuana.
  • SMSing while driving contributes to a rise in the possibilities of accidents by about 23 times.
  • As per a research, it has been concluded that texting is more dangerous than actually talking on the phone.
  • Considering the distraction of the driver in texting while driving, this activity keeps the driver involved in texting for around five seconds, which on a highway means a hundred yards.
  • While texting and driving, the crash can take place in just about 2-3 seconds, with the driver's reaction time being reduced substantially.
  • Around 50% of teenagers agree to the fact that they do texting while driving.
  • About 21 states in the USA have banned this risky activity, whereas other states have certain laws according to the type of drivers.
  • The National Safety Council has come to a conclusion that around 28% of car crashes or 1.6 million accidents per year happen because of the driver SMSing while at the wheel.



Technology that can help

Of course the easiest way to solve this problem is to just stop texting, Facebooking and Tweeting while driving. But what if you could use a Bluetooth headset to do those things with both hands on the wheel and eyes on the road? 

For the past two months I've been searching for and testing various hands-free texting methods. There are quite a few out there now, and even OnStar has announced they're developing voice-to-text technology for texting and social media updates. Here are some available solutions:

Dial2Do (email, text, Twitter, calendar, Wordpress, RSS feeds and more)

Jott Assistant (email, text, Twitter, Facebook, Wordpress, calendar, RSS feeds and more)

Voice on the Go (email, text, Twitter, Facebook, calendar, RSS feeds and more) (email and text only)

FDI Hands Free (email and text only)

Of the five voice-to-text services listed above I tested the first three. I did this partially because I was looking for something that would do email, text, Facebook and Twitter and also because those three services were available as special apps bundled with my Jawbone Icon Bluetooth headset. I chose the Jawbone because I drive a cabrio and it has a background noise suppression feature that eliminates wind noise.


All three accounts had free trials, so I first tried Dial2Do. It was OK for email and text but I couldn't get the Twitter feature to work reliably and it didn't have a Facebook option. I then tried Jott and it was better. Email and text worked very well and Facebook and Twitter worked too, but it took a long time (sometimes 15 minutes or more) for updates to actually post. 

Lastly, I tried Voice on the Go and quickly became amazed at what it could do. With the touch of a button on the headset I can listen to my email, send an email, update Twitter or Facebook, send a text, check and update my calendar and make calls with voice dial keeping both hands on the wheel. The accuracy of the voice-to-text transcription is amazing. Here's a video that shows how it works:

On one of my tests, I said "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" to see how well the software would work. It spelled the word perfectly. I posted a Facebook update with the cabrio top down at 55 mph and it only missed one word, Jawbone. 


Listen to the original voice message here.


How does it work?

All three services are cloud-based, so to access them you just dial a local number. You then use their defined voice commands to access the various features of your account. The downside of this is that when you send a text to someone they can't reply directly because the text will actually come from the local number you dialed for the service. So it's best to include your name in the text so people know who you are. For Facebook, you can update your status but can't access your notifications or make comments. Email access is pretty full-featured. All three accounts were easy to set up.

All three services also state they can be used with any smartphone and have apps for the Blackberry platform. Jott and Voice on the Go have iPhone apps and Dial2Do has an Android app. They also work with many different Bluetooth headsets.

Other distractions

These days there are many things to distract us while driving, including stereos, navigation systems, food, makeup and kids, to name a few. And even though it may seem using a headset is better than not using one, statistics show using any cell phone while driving lowers your concentration and increases your risk of an accident, headset or not. Click here to try a game that makes this point.

For this reason, victims' advocacy groups like FocusDriven push for a complete ban of cell phone use while driving, even when using a headset. In this wired world I don't believe such a ban will ever happen but it's obvious we, as a society and as individuals, need to give DWT and other driving distractions the same level of attention as DWI. So far 24 states have banned texting while driving for all drivers.


I believe this technology, used properly and with discretion, can help minimize distractions while keeping us connected. And for those who are old enough to remember when we didn't have cell phones, we survived without them then and we can again if needed. And actually, after spending a long weekend in the mountains where our phones didn't work, it might be nice.

I'll close with this very important yet graphic video produced in the UK for teen driver's education. It's not for the squeamish but if you can get through it you'll leave with a strong sense of how important this issue is. Let's be careful out there.

[Last modified: Sunday, July 10, 2011 9:29am]


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