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What would convince teens not to drive distracted? Maybe money

Over half of American teens admit they text and drive, according to an assistant professor of emergency medicine at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine. It's a significant public health issue. Today, drivers between the ages of 15 and 19 are more likely than any other demographic group to be killed in traffic crashes caused by cellphone distraction.

Why are these drivers ignoring the messages discouraging cellphone use behind the wheel? And what intervention might be adopted widely enough to have a real safety impact?

A recent report published in the journal Traffic Injury Prevention has a recommendation. After surveying teens on why they use their phones while driving and what would convince them to stop, the report recommends a combination strategy. Teens who agree to limit their cellphone use should be given a financial incentive -- probably an insurance discount. In order to qualify, they would have to use an app that blocks their access distracting cellphone functions.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration already recommends that cellphones be equipped with "driver mode," which would limit their use when a car is moving. The latest iOS contains a "do not disturb while driving" mode that blocks texts and limits phone calls. However, the mode is optional. An app that automatically turns on when a car starts moving could be more effective.

Why are teens still using their cellphones behind the wheel?

The researchers surveyed 153 preselected teens who drove their own vehicles and who had texted while driving during the previous month. Interestingly, 99 percent said they were willing or somewhat willing to quit checking emails and social media apps while driving. 96 percent would give up sending texts, while 91 percent would quit reading them.

Far fewer (55 percent) were willing to give up music apps or navigation apps (40 percent). Furthermore, when the participants were asked why they wouldn't want to use a cellphone app that monitored their driving behavior, their No. 1 reason was an aversion to parents being allowed in on the monitoring. A financial incentive might overcome that concern.

So, according to the researchers, what is needed is an app that automatically blocks dangerous cellphone behavior while the car is moving while possibly allowing music and navigation apps. Then, we would need a modest financial incentive to persuade any reluctant teens to use the app.

We all need to do more to reduce distracted driving. One way to do that is to hold distracted drivers accountable for the harm they cause. If you have been injured by a distracted driver, contact a personal injury attorney for a case evaluation.

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