Is Using Siri While Driving Just as Bad as Texting?

Science & Tech / Gadgets & Apps

Is Using Siri While Driving Just as Bad as Texting?

By: Chris O'Shea

Siri — the voice activated assistant in the iPhone — is great, sometimes. Most of the time it doesn't work right and annoys you. But then other times — like when you're driving and can reply to a text via dictation, it's pretty cool. But a recent study by the Texas Transportation Institute at Texas A&M University is trying to rain on that parade. It found that using Siri's voice-to-text function while cruising down the highway is just as dangerous as regular old texting. Those results have caused quite a stir.

The Siri study asked 43 people to drive along an enclosed track without any device. The same group then drove the same course while texting, and then once more while using Siri to text. "In each case, drivers took about twice as long to react as they did when they weren't texting," Christine Yager, the person behind the report, told Reuters. "Eye contact to the roadway also decreased, no matter which texting method was used." Fittingly enough, the Yager suspects using Siri was so dangerous because it never works right. "You're still using your mind to try to think of what you're trying to say, and that by proxy causes some driving impairment, and that decreases your response time," she explained.

Adam Cheyer, one of the creators of Siri, disagrees with Yager's study. Shocking, right? He thinks that Yager's study is flawed because she didn't use it correctly. "I don’t think that there is any evidence that shows that if Siri and other systems are used properly in eyes-free mode, they are ‘just as risky as texting,’” Cheyer recently told the business tech site Xconomy. According to Cheyer, Siri wasn't being used in "car mode," which limits the things a user can do, in Yager's study and thus had people using the phone in a way that makes them sometimes look at it. "Of course your driving performance is going to be degraded if you’re reading screens and pushing buttons," he explained.

When Xconomy asked Yager about Cheyer's criticism, she replied that the study mimicked the way people use Siri. “We examined the product information contained in the packaging for the iPhone 4S, and were not able to find information related to the directed mode use of the device,” said Yager. "The only somewhat relevant reference said, ‘Consider using a compatible hands-free device with iPhone. Use of a hands-free device may be required in some areas.’"

That's really the sticking point here. While Siri might have an excellent "car mode" who uses it that way? No one. We hold the phone, we look at it. We might even tap the screen a couple times. We're not surprised Cheyer is mad about the study, but we've got to side with Yager. When you're distracted by a device, you're not going to be as good of a driver. Now, shaving while driving, that's completely cool. No one do a study on that.

[Pic via Flickr - Sean MacEntee]

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