By Amelia Myers
Every minute in the U.S., 660,000 drivers use handheld devices while driving.
Forty four states have laws that ban texting while driving, yet in 2012, over 2,000 people died and 421,000 people were injured in texting while driving related crashes. In crashes involving drivers under the age of 20, a reported 10 percent of all drivers in fatal crashes were distracted.
State lawmakers and insurance companies are exploring how to decrease the risk of drivers using technology on the road.
Traffic safety legislative leaders convened at NCSL’s Street Smart: Innovations in Traffic Safety Pre-Conference in Minneapolis to discuss a number of cutting-edge strategies to increase traffic safety in their respective states and communities.
One particularly compelling session examined driving behaviors of younger drivers, who are increasingly connected to their cell phones, and how a cell phone application could actually help teens develop safe driving habits.
Attendees heard from Janet Creaser with the University of Minnesota’s Roadway Safety Institute about her study of the Teen Driver Support System (TDSS), an application that was installed on teen drivers’ phones to increase teen driver safety. The app is a way technology can support safe new drivers by making teens put their phones down and enforcing the rules of the road, with help from parents.
According to the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute, 25 percent of all teens on the road text every time they get behind the wheel, and 10 percent have extended text conversations while driving.
Novice teen drivers are at highest risk of an accident during their first six months on the road, and many states have graduated driver’s licensing laws reflecting the balance between safely traveling on the roads and still allowing teens to gain needed driving experience.
The TDSS system used teens’ phones to help alert them, and their parents, to risky driving behavior as it happened. Minnesota traffic laws were loaded into the application, as well as graduated drivers license laws, including curfew, speed limits, safety belt laws, and others.
The test group required teens to use an application that blocked all ability to text or call as they were driving, and the application notified their parents via text message when the teen broke traffic laws, such as speeding or staying out past curfew. A preliminary analysis of the data showed a decline in aggressive driving, speeding, and calling and texting while driving for the teens using the application.
Over 90 percent of the parents in the study said they would recommend the application to other parents, and over 60 percent of the teens who used the application had a favorable opinion.
Legislators at NCSL’s Street Smart Conference were interested in how the application worked, the data it collected and how they could get the application to their states. During the Q&A, legislators shared concerns for citizen’s privacy; including how this new feature could be used for adults through insurance companies, and how speed and location data might later be used.
The session demonstrated that one way to reduce distracted driving of teens may be through more technology.
All of NCSL's Street Smart sessions are available here.
Amelia Myers is a research analyst with NCSL's Environment, Energy and Transportation program. Email Amelia.