FORT MYERS, Fla. - For a little more than a month, it's been illegal to text and drive in Florida. But now, technology is making it easier than ever to type without your fingers. We're talking about the voice-to-text function found on most smartphones.
Under Florida's new texting law, it is legal to use the voice-to-text function. But, just because it's legal doesn't mean it's safe. A study done by AAA found it can delay reaction time by 25%. That's 10% higher than simply talking on a cell phone.
I met Jay Anderson with local safety group Stay Alive... Just Drive! to put those numbers to the test. First, I drove through the cones without talking or texting. That was challenging enough. Then, I used a hands-free earpiece, using the voice-to-text function to text a friend.
"The one thing you did that time and became extremely noticeable, is you reduced your speed significantly," Anderson commented. "This behavior impedes normal traffic."
Next, I turned on the speaker function, as many drivers do, relying primarily on one hand to steer. As I used voice-to-text to post to Facebook, I nearly ran down an orange cone. "Very erratic," Anderson said. "Your steering wasn't smooth, you're hitting the gas, releasing the gas, you got close to a couple cones."
Soon, I became more engaged in conversation than I was in driving.
"Every time you began to think about what you were going to say, your driving behavior changed," Anderson said. "It transferred from driving to the conversation."
Bottom line: there are ways to communicate while driving that will help you avoid a ticket. But, they may not help you avoid a crash.
"The cognitive function of your mind, it's not developed to process multiple thoughts," Anderson said. "It takes your focus off the task of driving, the most dangerous activity we participate in on a daily basis."
Even with voice-to-text available, some people are still texting the old-fashioned way behind the wheel. Since October 1st, when Florida's texting ban went into effect, the Lee County Sheriff's Office has issued 4 tickets and 7 warnings. Fort Myers Police have given one ticket. The numbers may seem low, but remember, it's a secondary offense, so drivers have to be caught breaking another law before they get a ticket for texting. They may also be cited for other offenses such as careless driving or speeding.