Voice to Text, Is It Really Safer Than Manual Texting?

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MTI research reveals hands-free texting only feels safer, but does not improve distracted driving incidents
February 18, 2020
San José, CA

While hands-free interfaces may seem an intuitive and convenient solution to the dangers of distracted driving related to cell phone usage, scientific evidence substantiating the desired safety improvements is lacking. Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI) researcher, Dr. Francesca Favaro investigated how driving performance was affected when drivers used manual texting compared to voice to text in “Impact of Smart Phones’ Interaction Modality on Driving Performance for Conventional and Autonomous Vehicles.”

Using a full-car integrated simulator capable of both manual and automated driving, Dr. Favaro assessed the performance of 32 diverse drivers when receiving and sending text messages using both manual texting and voice-command texting. Several variables were taken into consideration when assessing driver distraction, including time spent on the road v. phone screen, vehicle drift, perceived safety, and distance between vehicles among other factors.

The results of the study revealed that while drivers stated they felt safer when replying vocally to a text, their driving performance did not improve. The findings reveal that two key factors drive the perception of safety using voice command texting:

  • Voice commands are composed faster than manual text composition
  • Drivers perceive that voice commands require less effort

Dr. Favaro, an autonomous vehicle research expert, and her team recommend further study into hands-free interfaces and urge “caution with respect to the technological promises of vocal engagement interfaces.”

Dr. Favaro’s research on this subject was recently featured as the latest in the MTI webinar series, MTI Research Snaps. A recording of the webinar and presentation can be found at https://transweb.sjsu.edu/research/webinars/past.


At the Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI) at San Jose State University (SJSU) our mission is to increase mobility for all by improving the safety, efficiency, accessibility, and convenience of our nation's’ transportation system. Through research, education, workforce development and technology transfer, we help create a connected world. MTI was founded in 1991 and is funded through the US Departments of Transportation and Homeland Security, the California Department of Transportation, and public and private grants. MTI is affiliated with SJSU’s Lucas College and Graduate School of Business.


Dr. Francesca Favaro is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Aviation and Technology at San José State University.



Irma Garcia, MTI Communications & Workforce Development Coordinator




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