New Device Would Limit Teen Texting While Driving

Texting while driving is a major safety issue for teens and adults. Now, the insurance company Esurance is introducing a program that parents can use to limit their children’s cell phone use while they are behind the wheel.

The DriveSafe program operates in two parts. One element is a telematics device that can be installed in the diagnostics port of any car manufactured after 1996 (except electric and hybrid vehicles). The other is an app that parents can download onto their teenager’s cell phone. The app uses Bluetooth technology to track driving habits, lock out certain cell phone functions when the car is in motion, and send parents alerts if teens are speeding or breaking other rules.

The program addresses what has become a big safety problem for teen drivers. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, teens are six times more likely to be in an accident if they are dialing a cell phone while driving and 23 times more likely to be involved in a collision if they are texting while driving. Cell phone use greatly reduces teens’ reaction times, and the DriveSafe program is meant to reduce the risk.

For parents concerned that data about their teen’s driving habits may be used to increase insurance rates, Esurance states that the company will not even have access to the information. Instead, a third party will host the data, which will not be shared with Esurance.

Parents will be able to use the program to block certain functions of a smartphone while the car is in motion, such as text messaging, email, web browsing and the use of social media apps. But teens will still be able to make 911 calls, receive calls from their parents and access hands-free functions via Bluetooth. Parents receive notifications when teens accelerate too quickly, brake too hard, travel too far from home, drive past curfew or exceed the speed limit.

If teens attempt to remove the telematics device, remove the app, turn off Bluetooth or power down their phone, parents will receive an alert. The app works best with Android smartphones and with some Windows and BlackBerry devices. The iPhone does not allow third party apps to restrict iPhone functionality, so the app is limited to displaying a home screen reminding users not to use cell phones while driving.

DriveSafe is available for free from Esurance in 39 states, including Illinois.

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