Even with Google Glass, texting while driving is still unsafe

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Image: Melissa Riofrio

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Texting while driving with Google Glass might seem safer than typing on a smartphone, but it's actually just as much of a distraction, according to a new study.

Researchers at the University of Central Florida set up a driving simulation in which test subjects had to slam the brakes to avoid hitting the car in front of them while simultaneously trying to send text messages. The test found no significant difference in reaction time between drivers who dictated messages with Glass and drivers who typed the message on an Android smartphone.

Why it matters: In theory, Glass should be as good as it gets for texting by voice while driving, as the head-mounted display lets users keep their eyes forward. This new study shows that interacting with a computer is a distraction no matter which way your eyes are facing. Studies like this could have legal implications as Google lobbies lawmakers to allow Glass behind the wheel, and as more auto makers add voice dictation features to their vehicles.

Voice-to-text is no cure-all

Drivers who used Google Glass did show some different behavior from those who used smartphones. In the study, Glass wearers tended to recover faster from near-collisions, and they did a better job of driving a straight line while texting. But they also tended to drive closer to the car in front of them, leaving a smaller window to react.

This is hardly the first study to poke holes in the idea that voice dictation is a safe way to send text messages from behind the wheel. Last year, researchers at the University of Utah found that using a text-to-speech interface was one of the most distracting activities for drivers. Another study from Texas A&M found that voice dictation was just as distracting as typing, despite being slower and giving drivers a false sense of security about their safety.

The new study shows that the same distractions are at play even when drivers don't have to take their hands off the wheel or look down at their phones. That could be a problem as Google tries to ensure the legality of driving with Glass, but it also means law enforcement will have a tougher time cracking down on distracted driving as technology advances. Given that all voice dictation is dangerous, it doesn't matter whether the driver is wearing a head-mounted computer or not. If only we could skip ahead to when cars will drive themselves.

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