Going hands-free in a car may not be a safe as you think. A new study suggests that texting and driving is risky, even if you're not using your hands.
Driving while using a voice-to-text application on a smartphone is no safer than manually sending a text message, researchers said. Researchers have known that texting and driving can be dangerous, but this study set out to prove that even hands-free messaging can be risky.
The study was conducted by Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI) and sponsored by Southwest Region University Transportation Center (SWUTC), which is part of the federally-funded University Transportation Centers Program.
The study involved 43 people, who drove actual vehicles on a closed course. Participants were first asked to navigate the course without using a cell phone. Then were then asked to drive the course three more times while performing a series of texting exercises: Once using two different voice-to-text applications (Apple's Siri and Vlingo for Android phones) and once sending text messages manually.
Researchers measured two things: how long it took to complete a task and how long it took for the driver to respond to a traffic light, which was switched on at random intervals during the course.
Most drivers' response times were significantly delayed when using both methods of text messaging, the researchers found. And response times were twice as long to as compared to when they were not texting.
Drivers were also took their eyes off the road more often than when not texting, in both manual and voice texting. It took participants less time to send a text message manually than to use a voice-to-text app. However, in both cases drivers' performances were the same.
Researchers found that although drivers showed the similar results when using voice-to-texting apps as with manual text messaging, participants felt safer when talking to their smartphones, as opposed to typing a message.
Texas A&M says the study was conducted to gain new insight into driving safety.
"Understanding the distracted driving issue is an evolving process, and this study is but one step in that process. We believe it's a useful step, and we're eager to see what other studies may find," Christine Yager, associate transportation researcher at TTI said in a statement.
The results of the study are published during National Distracted Driving Awareness Month. People are encouraged to stop using cell phones, eating, grooming or reading while driving, among other activities. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation's website, 3,331 people were killed and 387,000 were injured in 2011 in crashes that involved a distracted driver.
The American Automobile Association supports the TTI study. In a statement given to CBS News, AAA CEO Peter Kissinger says:
"AAA believes the new voice-to-text study done by the Texas Transportation Institution (TTI) is a step in the right direction. AAA feels that past research confirms what we've known for many years that hands-free driving isn't risk-free driving. Most people understand the risks of distraction and other risky behaviors but refuse to apply what they know to their own behavior. While this study by TTI looks at texting, later this year AAA will be releasing a sophisticated comprehensive study that looks at the dangers of mental distraction and the implications for drivers."
Apple and Vlingo did not immediately respond to CBS News' request for comment on the study.