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Hands-free texting app aims to make driving safer

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Through a cell phone headset, drivers can dictate a text message while keeping their eyes on the road.

Nineteen states -- from Alaska to Washington -- have passed laws prohibiting text messaging while driving. But it only takes a few minutes behind the wheel to realize that drivers are still tapping away -- at stop lights, in traffic and even while cruising on the highway.

Juan Gilbert, professor and chairman of the human-centered computing division at the Clemson University School of Computing, notices rampant texting-while-driving, too. He and his colleagues took this approach to the problem: "If you can't keep people from doing it," Gilbert says, "make it safer."

Gilbert and his team developed a hands-free texting application, called voiceTEXT, geared toward texting drivers. Through a cell phone headset, drivers can dictate a text message while keeping their eyes on the road.

Another voice command delivers the message, which is sent to the recipient in text, email and voice formats. If the recipient is also driving, she can listen to the audio message. If not, she can read the message as a traditional text transcribed by voiceTEXT or click on a link in the email that plays the recording.

Ideally, Gilbert says, voiceTEXT users could choose how they want to receive text messages (as texts, emails or voice messages) as easily as they put their cell phones on ring, vibrate or silent.

Here's a video demonstrating voiceTEXT:

But with the texts sent through the application -- at least sometimes -- as voice messages, why would a driver use voiceTEXT instead of simply calling the message recipient? Gilbert's response:

Why does anyone need to send text messages when they're driving because they can simply call? That's the million-dollar question, because we know that people actually text while they drive... I don't know exactly why they do this, knowing that it is dangerous. Maybe they don't want to carry on a conversation and they simply want to send a message to the recipient. Whatever the case may be, in our pilot studies we know that people will use this application versus texting while driving.

The researchers hope voiceTEXT will be available to the public later this year.

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Christina Hernandez Sherwood

Contributing Writer

Contributing Writer Christina Hernandez Sherwood has written for the Los Angeles Times, Newsday, the Philadelphia Inquirer, Diverse: Issues in Higher Education and Columbia Journalism Review. She holds degrees from the University of Delaware and Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. She is based in New Jersey. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure