back to article Speech-to-text drives motorists to distraction

With texting so clearly dangerous while driving, users and vendors have turned to speech-to-text technologies as a safe alternative, perhaps to no avail. According to a study published by US road safety group the AAA Foundation, speech-to-text technologies are more distracting than talking to other passengers in the car. The …


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  1. Don Jefe

    Whittering Lesbians Groucho Sheep

    I've never had a voice driven device that could understand me. The stupid Siri thing works better than my Blackberry did but not by much. I've tested sending emails and text messages to myself before using it for something meaningful but I always end up with craziness like in the title. It's no wonder this stuff hinders more than helps. Maybe if you're from one of the bland states and have no accent it works, but not for me.

    1. rjmx

      Re: Whittering Lesbians Groucho Sheep

      My wife's car has one of those Onstar thingys that supposedly includes a phone. The thing point-blank refuses to understand me (although, to be fair, I _am_ an Australian living in Massachusetts). Sometimes I've been reduced to flat-out screaming at the thing, to no avail. Lucky I wasn't driving at the time.

      The silly part is that all it has to do is recognise numbers from zero to nine, and it can't even do that reliably.

      1. DJ 2

        Re: Whittering Lesbians Groucho Sheep

        I've tried SIRI in Austrailian and American english, but I had to go back to using British english, and that horible sounding bloke because they just couldn't understand me.

  2. Jolyon Smith

    They missed an obvious distracting task to measure...

    They should have tested people driving whilst smoking a ciggy and/or trying to light one up.

    In 20+ years of driving I haven't been involved in a single incident where a mobile device was a factor (either on my part - I ignore my device when driving - or the other party). But I have been the victim of two drivers distracted by their dropped/about to be lit fags.

    Another bug bear of mine is those idiots who drive with their frikkin' dogs on their lap/roaming free in the front of the vehicle.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Distracting tasks?

      What about eating breakfast? Applying mascara? Shaving? Reading a newspaper? Turning around to scold the brats in the back seat? All quite common commuter activities here in the USA.

      On the other hand, the skills that one needs to demonstrate in order to get a driving licence here are mind bogglingly simple. If you can engage the automatic transmission and drive around the block, you're set. I say, demand a reasonable standard of driving competency before granting a driving licence, and you won't have to fsck around with figuring out what distracts junior the worst.

      1. Jolyon Smith

        Re: Distracting tasks?

        The law (in the UK and here in NZ at least) already has/had provisions for an offence of "Driving without due care and attention" or similar. But instead of enforcing the existing law, they cherry picked a specific activity and passed a NEW law to cover it. Some might cynically suggest that this was at the behest of a lobby with a vested interest in ... oh, I don't know... selling hands-free kits to the motorist......

        So there was no real "science" in the decision to ban hands-on use of mobile devices in cars. This study goes a fair way to proving that. My other examples were, well, just other examples. I am sure there are others, as you and others have also pointed out.

        1. auburnman

          Re: Distracting tasks?

          "Driving without due care and attention" can only be used to book someone AFTER the police catch a driver doing something stupid like weaving into the other lane or scraping the kerb. To get the mobile ban into effect the police filmed numerous incidents of people on mobiles in less than full control of the vehicle.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Distracting tasks?

            ""Driving without due care and attention" can only be used to book someone AFTER the police catch a driver doing something stupid like weaving into the other lane or scraping the kerb"

            Any offence can only be prosecuted, cautioned or FPN'd after the police catch them. The mobile ban has had no perceptible effect on driver behaviour that I've seen, and is merely part of the tsunami of poorly written, poorly thought out legislation added to the statute book. WIthout a lot more traffic cops and/or cameras, such laws have no effect.

            Clearly the balance of (punishment * likelihood of being caught) doesn't dissuade a very high proportion of drivers from mobile use, nor does the message of self-hazard or socially responsible driving. And that's despite most recent (UK) vehicles having hand free capability, and the ability to retrofit such technology at low cost. Better driver training would be a possibility, but with the UK's "pass once, drive for a lifetime - almost" policy, there's no mechanism for this.

        2. taxman
          Big Brother

          Re: Distracting tasks?

          The case for the prosecution

    2. SW

      Re: They missed an obvious distracting task to measure...

      Another bug bear of mine is those idiots who drive with their frikkin' dogs on their lap/roaming free in the front of the vehicle.

      If you think that's bad you should try it out here in the Middle East - it's more often the case of children sitting on the driver's lap (crunchy airbags is the nickname) !!!

      As for using the mobile, well local attitude is that if you can't drive/mobile/eat/scratch/smoke at the same time then maybe you ought not be on the roads.

      Me, handsfree and voice operated works perfectly well.

      Self-explanatory icon for this = usual result of the local driving style.

    3. andreas koch
      Paris Hilton

      Re: They missed an obvious distracting task to measure...

      Have they measured distractions inflicted from outside? Distractions inflicted on a driver without the driver actually causing this distraction or giving his or her explicit consent to be distracted?

      When you drive along a road, you will be exposed to a lot of random, useless information. This information needs to be filtered out from the information that is useful for safe driving.

      Your overall input signal consists of useful data, interference, and noise. Filtering a known interference from the signal is generally easier than filtering out noise and random spikes.

      I conclude that it's easier to ignore that I'm holding a cigarette than seeing a road sign that tells me not just that the road ahead is now closed, but also that the roadworks are likely to continue for 17 weeks from the 4th of April, that the contractor doing the work on behalf of an agency working with the highways maintenance authority can be reached under 0800 555 123 467 8 or and is profoundly sorry for any inconvenience that the work might cause you.

      The same goes for little pegs on the side of the road with soggy A4 sheets of paper stuck on them informing me that the PuddleDuck nursery crèche is having an open day on Saturday, 15th June from 9:45am to 1:15pm.

      And am I really that concerned about TRACY being 45 TODAY!!! that it needs to be posted on a bedsheet fluttering across the road?

      Has anyone ever done any research into involuntary distractions? I think they would find that these have a far greater impact that voluntary distractions.

      If I hold a cigarette while driving, then I know it's there, it's of no consequence to the traffic and I can ignore it.

      While I can't endorse the use of a mobile whilst driving because it's not legal, the same applies for this mobile use: I know about it, it's traffic-irrelevant, I can ignore it.

      I can apply a steep-flanked filter to these distractions because I initiated them myself. In my opinion they are a minor factor compared to the general information noise that gets thrown at you.

      Any research links, anyone?

      P.S.: Did you notice the missing 't' in 'webmailhostingservice'? It was irrelevant, you ignored it.

      P.P.S.: My current favourite useless sign is stuck 15m high on a camera pole on the M3. It says "camera not in use". Just why this information is so relevant that I need to be distracted from the traffic around me to look up beats me.

      1. a well wisher

        Re: They missed an obvious distracting task to measure...

        "f I hold a cigarette while driving, then I know it's there, it's of no consequence to the traffic and I can ignore it."

        Not when the lit end comes off the ciggie and falls in your lap, you wont !

        Not sure if that stil happens with the modern fag, but did when I still smoked some 30 years ago

        But apart for that, fully agree with your comments regarding excessive and pointless signage generating 'brain noise'

        1. This post has been deleted by its author

  3. jake Silver badge

    Bottom line: When you are driving, fucking drive.

    It's kind of more important than anything else when you are at the controls ... If you want to kill yourself, drive off a cliff somewhere. Leave the rest of us out of it!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Bottom line: When you are driving, fucking drive.

      "Leave the rest of us out of it!"

      Is that view from somebody claiming to be an impeccable driver themselves, or one who concludes that their own foibles are of lesser consequence than the foibles of others?

      1. jake Silver badge

        @AC 14:27 (was: Re: Bottom line: When you are driving, fucking drive.)

        After forty+ years of legally driving public roads (two wheels, three wheels, four wheels & on up to the set of joints that I move hay, alfalfa & straw from our place in Nevada to here in Sonoma), I've never received a citation, not even a fix-it-ticket. For any reason. I've never been in a wreck, never had a fender-bender, never had points on my license, never even had a parking ticket[1]. My insurance rates are low, and I like it that way, so I practice defensive driving. Does that answer your question?

        If you have issues with my driving, I suggest you look within ... and fucking learn to drive!

        On the track? Whole 'nuther kettle of worms. But I keep that shit on the track, not the street.

        [1] ::knocks wood::

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      1. jake Silver badge

        @Symon (was: Re: Bottom line: When you are driving, fucking drive.)

        Well ... I tell passengers to shut the fuck up when in situations that demand it. And yes, I also kill the radio. Likewise, I don't drive when congested in congested traffic. I'm not an idiot. Are you?

        I'm not Kimi Räikkönen ... but I am ethnically Sámit (my elders prefer "Lappalainen", not that I give a rat's ass about the details), and all of my Great Grandparents emigrated to Northern California from north of the arctic circle Finland in the mid-1870s, in pursuit of the lumber & fishing ;-)

        I'm known for being quiet behind the wheel. Shut up, leave me alone. I know what I'm doing.

  4. Fuzz

    having looked at the data

    I can conclude that the worst thing you can do as far as reaction times are concerned is to drive an actual car. What you need to do is drive only in a driving simulator.

    This test seems to ignore the most important difference between hands free and hands on systems. That being that in one system, one or all of your hands is tied up controlling the device whereas with hands free, both hands are available to control the car. This is particularly important in countries like the UK where the majority of cars have manual gear boxes. I don't think anyone is arguing that your reaction times for talking on a hands free phone or directly into the handset are going to be similar, that's just common sense.

    I don't use the speech to text on my phone, it only works properly when the car is stationary so there is no background noise. I do, however make use of the text to speech a lot.

  5. Cyberelic

    Crumbling dope

    A good while back I had a series of commutes from S. Wales to London, in the very early Saturday morning. Roads were very very quiet at that time and I was alone.

    I found the most difficult part of rolling a joint was the 'crumble'. Surprising how far you can travel without noticing the road! I found the best thing to do was to stradle a white line, then when the car veered to one side, you would be warned by the noise changing.

    I don't smoke any longer, nor do I do drugs any more, but I do still remember those few long trips on the motorway.


  6. Pete the not so great

    Humans are easily distracted? Who knew. Bring on the self driving car.

  7. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

    They tested writing e-mail by speech-to-text.

    That's hugely distracting, in my opinion. This seems to be borne out.

    Controlling car functions by speech-to-text, or by text-to-speech, ought to be less distracting.

    It may be useful to have computer speech start with a "ding" noise - or the word "please" maybe - to give you time to prepare to ignore it mentally if you're busy driving. Or to use an accelerometer to recognise that complicated driving is happening. Is there any research on the possible merit of a sat-nav that tries to avoid speaking up to distract you at a bad time?

  8. NBCanuck


    There is an expressway that rings the city I live in and it has an amazing feature - for most of the route I could take my hands off of the wheel and my car will happily motor along, staying centered in the lane, even following the minor curves in the road. How is this accomplished? Simple....all you have to do is allow ruts to wear through a layer or two of asphalt until the groove is sufficient deep that the sloped prevent the cars from moving out. I tested in on more than one occasion (with my hands at the wheel but not gripped) and the car didn't even wiggle back and forth. Reminded me of those old toy slot car tracks, or car rides at theme parks.

    The downside is that lane changes are takes a bit to move out of the lane, and each time a wheel crosses a groove it wants to stay there and fights you moving out.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    I drive around with the radio wound up full, smoking, drinking Special Brew,dropping acid, texting, updating Facebook and Twitter, shouting at pedestrians and other drivers, weaving between lanes, speeding, jumping red lights and playing pocket billiards at times. Never had an accident. Seen hundreds.

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    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Distracting?

      Did you try doing this on a circulated public road ?

  10. Haku
    Thumb Up

    The only time you should ever drink and drive is

    when you're sat behind a games console controller.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "No results found for 'restaurants near hey wha ERRRRRRRTTT SCREEE BANG BANG oh my God my legs I can't feel my legs'. Would you like to try another query?"

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      You, mate

      you made me ruin my keyboard. Never mind the monitor, I can wipe it clean.

      I was still able to give you an up vote though.

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