Why Isn't There A Better Way To Text While Driving?

It's deadly. It's irresponsible. And we've all done it. Before you commute home think about this: Why isn't there a better solution to texting while driving?

Last night in Los Angeles, celebrity plastic surgeon Dr Frank Ryan drove his car over a cliff while sending a text to Twitter about his his border collie. (Quite possibly this tweet.)

Dr Ryan's death is a shame - mitigated only by the fact that he didn't hurt anyone else. (His dog Jill survived the accident, even.) But it's impossible not to feel a bit of schadenfreude at his self-inflicted death while doing something so trivial. "Darwin Award!" we chuckle. But we've all done it at times - or something equally as distracting while driving.

"COW", a public-service video from the UK about the dangers of texting while driving.

Texting while driving is especially dangerous, not simply because we're distracted, but because it necessitates taking one's eyes off the road often for many seconds at a time. Anything done while driving is a distraction - looking at an iPod, searching through a purse, even talking on a Bluetooth headset with eyes on the road - simply because it distracts us from the task at hand: piloting a two-ton machine at speeds considered appropriate for only daredevils and experts just a century before. (Tom Vanderbilt's book Traffic addresses this at length, for those interested in statistics.)

But I've done it. I suspect many of you have done it. Just last weekend, careening south through rural Missouri in a rented Pontiac, I sent and received a dozen text messages with my sister as we coordinated the logistics of a family emergency. I was upset, tired and finding being a safe driver difficult enough without trying to peck out letters on a glowing touchscreen with my thumb. But I did it because that's what I had to do. I could have pulled over each time. But who does that really?

A quick glance at a phone is probably not much more dangerous than a quick glance at anything else. Which is to say: dangerous but routinely so. Text input, on the other hand, is a nightmare. Car & Driver tested texters on a closed course and found they were more distracted - more deadly - than drivers who were drunk but keeping their eyes on the road.

My own strategy is to hold the phone at the top of the steering wheel while typing in the hope that my brain will still be able to recognise dangers in front of me, even if my vision is focused on a little screen on a much closer plane. It's probably not a very sound theory, and I've been fortunate to have never really had the opportunity to put it to the test. I have found myself wandering out of my own lane when I try to keep the phone in my lap to prevent anyone from seeing me texting while driving, swapping embarrassment for recklessness.

There are several iPhone and Android apps that advertise voice-to-text services, but reviews seem middling at best - so poor that I didn't even bother to try any of them. The speech-recognition app that I use on my iPhone, Dragon Dictation, works incredibly well, but requires a 3G connection as well as copying-and-pasting from one app into another. That's hardly better than simply typing.

Type in "SMS" in the iTunes App Store and you'll find apps that let you text other countries or use voice to trigger pre-scripted messages, but nothing that properly replaces or extends the official Apple "Messages" app to add voice recognition.

Apple's recent acquisition of mobile assistant app Siri indicates the iPhone maker thinks that voice control is going to be a big part of the future of mobile interfaces, but it's not yet integrated into iOS in any way that matters. ('Voice Control' on the iPhone is almost comically unable to recognise things like names from your own contact list.)

Google's 'Voice Actions for Android' may point the way - you can use Voice Actions to send a text - but it's Froyo (Android 2.2) only. Plus it still requires you to look at your phone quite a bit to confirm that the voice recognition has worked reasonably well enough to get the meaning of your message across.

I can't envision an optimal solution short of bespoke systems that integrate text messages into heads-up displays, for instance - solutions that cause as many problems as they solve. And thinking about this all morning, looking at the statistics, has reaffirmed my belief that texting while driving should be avoided at all costs. (Killing myself is one thing; killing someone else because I was irresponsible is another.) I'll use a little of that time on the side of the road with my hazards on wishing that there were a safer, easier compromise.


Comments

    it's pretty simple really... forget texting while driving, instead call the person.. you get alot more mileage out of speech than text and it only costs a little more!

    text = 0.25c - 0.50c
    call = 0.70c - $1.00

    get a Bluetooth (costs vary, however worth the money), or whatever, and simply make the god damned call! it just may save someone's life!

    Ever tried carrying a conversation during peak out traffic.

    My wife and I stopped a while ago cause I kept losing my train of though because I was to busy reacting to all the other idiots...I mean drivers on the road.

    I can't see how a person could think about a message, coordinate themselves enough to actually type it and maintain suitable control over a vehicle all at once.

    I honestly don't think people really realise how much concentration it takes to drive, even on an open road (that's why so many people kill themselves or other people simply changing radio stations!!).

    I agree, get hands free and voice activation.

    Why Isn’t There A Better Way To Embroider While Driving?

    Driving a car is a serious and responsible business - you're moving tonnes of steel at high speeds in close proximity to other human beings in various states of protection.
    Unnecessary distractions are a threat to yourself and everyone within range of the missile you're operating.

    Anyone else have any good Why Isn’t There A Better Way To [...] While Driving?

    - meditate
    - reproduce
    - tap-dance
    ...

      Why isn't there a better way to play an acordian while driving?

        Why isn't there a better way to drive while driving?

    Perhaps the solution is to move away from the expectation of someone in control of a motor vehicle being available to talk or chat. Until we have foolproof driverless cars and auto systems (Volvos can stop by themselves right?), then the texting and talking should be done by a passenger.

    The studies that compare even voice calls with talking to a passenger are startling. Because the passenger is an added set of eyes subconsciously the conversation flows with traffic conditions. (Doesn't really apply to screaming kids in the backseat).

    I guess part of the problem is the sense of urgency and importance we have that makes us feel the need to answer calls or texts without stopping. Systems that intercept incoming calls and texts notifying the caller that the person is driving are probably a good idea. Giving the option to let the driver know it is important enough to stop, or wait until the destination.

    And remember folks in Australia the car has to be parked in order for you to touch a phone (that means handbrake on and ignition off).

      Correct me if I am wrong but in Victoria isn't it good enough for the car to be in park (with ignition on and handbrake off)

    How funny. My Samsung Galaxy S has an official Samsung app called 'RoadSMS' that 'aids you' to text while drive. It's pretty neat - uses the front camera to capture a live continuous stream of what's in front of you while giant keys are overlayed on the phone's screen ala this screenshot.

    Dunno what kind of message Samsung is showing with this app but it sure is possible.

    I'm gonna fess up and say that I've sent messages while driving.

    The difference is that I know my phone inside out so I don't need to look at it.

    I can't say I haven't glanced at it but that's only when I was worried a word was spelt incorrectly. Incorrect word > car crash.

    If I could not text without having to look at the phone then I wouldn't do it. That is the same I expect of anyone else doing it. A few times a week I see drivers who suck at driving while using a phone and some of those have been people making/taking calls. God help us if they try to text.

    The thing is, I've always been on high alert for things that could go wrong. I always look ahead, to the sides, look at other people in their cars etc so I am always alert. If a car has a DVD player in it I see if the driver is watching it. And take all these things into account when I drive near them.

    I think.. wait.. I KNOW that there is a massive amount of people out there who don't take their concentration on the road seriously. These people then try and operate devices, GPS, phones, in card DVD, even cd players and it just makes them a threat to everyone else.

    I think if someone can operate a device and a vehicle at the same time and not be distracted then they should be able to do so. It isn't something you can judge though, sadly.

    I'd love to try one of these distraction tests. I'd like to see where I measure up with other people.

    I hate texting with a touchscreen which is why I'm still using my Nokia N96. I'll switch eventually but the few times I do text whilst driving I rarely have to look at the screen as you're actually pressing buttons. I tried it once using my girlfriends HTC Desire & gave up almost immediately.

    But to be honest, even making a call when driving is VERY distracting, I once drove 12 kms in the wrong direction when on a call, the second I hung up I realised what I'd done. I like to think I pay way more attention to whats going on around me than most when I'm on the road so God knows how useless people who treat driving like a chore are at it.

    Quite sad that these things have such power over us as to not be able to leave them alone for an hour a day...

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