Russell Hebets April 26, 2018

Distracted driving is a highly dangerous activity that rivals the risk taken when drinking and driving, which we have discussed before here. One of the main distractions is texting, most often by teenagers. But despite the risks, motivating teens to stop texting has proven difficult. However, a new study indicates we could change teen habits more effectively with financial incentives.

What Are the Numbers?

The correlation between distraction and car accidents is very real and very grim. Not only do things like texting, and just being sleepy, significantly increase the odds of an accident, but they also increase the odds of a deadly accident. Teens are affected most of all. Car accidents are the leading cause of death for drivers age 16-24 and texting while driving increases the crash risk by 23%. While alcohol is still responsible for 10,000 highway fatalities per year (about 30% of highway deaths), texting and distracted driving now contribute to almost 3,500 highway fatalities, and these distracted accidents are increasing.

Motivating Change

Many states have laws against texting that result in citations and fines, but not everyone gets caught and often when something happens, it’s too late to act preventatively.

While phone operating systems have added features like Do Not Disturb, and Driving Mode, they are still only optional and teenagers love to text. In fact, convincing teens to stop texting while driving by discussing the dangers involved has simply not worked. But a recently released study indicates that money may be the motivating factor needed to make kids pay attention.

The kids surveyed in this study were aware of the danger in texting while driving and aware of features on their phones to silence texting or the use of apps; but they still texted regularly while driving their cars. When different options and ideas were discussed, the option they preferred was financial.

Current Efforts and Beyond

Many insurance companies now offer devices that monitor safe driving. When driving behavior is monitored and assessed as safe, the driver then receives a bonus or a break on their insurance. It’s often referred to as use-based insurance and this is the concept behind the incentive. If an additional app or device could detect that a phone was turned off or unused during a period of driving, and then sent that information to insurers, the driver would be rewarded with a discount on their costs.

Considering how expensive insuring a teen driver is, this proved to be a big factor in not texting for the kids in this survey. Another motivator? Parents were not directly involved. One of the reasons teens stated they did not like phone monitoring options alone was that they believed parents were heavily involved. With the insurance company involved and offering financial incentive, kids felt like the financial gain outweighed the risk of interference from their parents.

Ultimately, it’s not enough to identify a problem, but there needs to be good working solutions. In the case of teen drivers’ texting, a simple device, with an even simpler motivation, could help reduce crash risk and save lives.