Hands-free texting still distracts

By Lorne Fultonberg

April 24, 2013 Updated Apr 25, 2013 at 9:49 AM EDT

(WBNG Binghamton) Siri may not be your savior after all.

A new study from the Texas A&M Transportation Institute shows even when drivers have their hands free, they may not be able to keep their eyes on the road.

The study found that even though drivers felt safer when using voice-to-text applications -- such as Apple's Siri or Vlingo for Android -- their response time was just as bad.

"It's kind of like the same thing really," said Brian Thomas, 20, of Vestal. "You're using your phone."

In fact, using their voices to text took slightly longer to do than to text with their fingers. And those studied didn't spend any longer watching the road.

"It's still distracting drivers as much, if not more," said Broome County Sheriff's Deputy Robert Stapleton. "When you're driving, your concentration has to be 100 percent on what's around you, 360 degrees. And nothing, including radio, or food, or makeup can distract you."

Stapleton says inattention while driving accounts for the majority of the collisions in Broome County.

Thanks to a $15,000 grant from Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Broome County will continue to crack down on distracted drivers, Stapleton said. And he says those drivers should be fairly easy to find: An officer doesn't even need to see your phone to know you're distracted.

"Typically a distracted driver will show the same if not similar attributes as an intoxicated or impaired driver," he said. "They're weaving, they're in and out of their lane, they're not stopping in time or they're stopping to late. And it's fairly easy to spot."

State law prohibits handheld cell phone use while operating a car -- that includes phone calls and text messaging. A violation will saddle you with a new, stricter penalty: A fine and three points on your license.

Last year Broome County issued 210 tickets for cell phone use while driving and 43 tickets for texting and driving. Through March of this year, the county has already given 43 tickets for cell phone use and 20 for texting.