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Parents now have more options for fighting distracted driving

Here in Virginia, state law expressly prohibits teen drivers from talking on a cell phone while driving, and all drivers from sending or receiving text messages while behind the wheel. Similar laws to prevent distracted driving can be found on the books of Maryland, the District of Columbia and the majority of other states.

However, federal statistics show that despite the best efforts of lawmakers, distracted driving continues to remain a very real and very deadly problem -- especially among teens:

  • 50 percent of teens indicate they talk on cell phones while driving, 33 percent of teens indicate they text while driving, and nearly 50 percent of teens indicate they have been passengers in vehicles in which teen drivers were using a cell phone in some capacity.
  • Over 420,000 people are injured and another 3,300 people are killed in distracted driving-related car accidents every year.
  • Teens are more likely than anyone under the age of 80 to be involved in a fatal crash, a phenomenon that researchers attribute to their still developing cognitive ability to process and appreciate risk.

"[Teens] feel invincible," said the director of research at the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. "They have large social networks and they want to stay in contact with them."

Given the risks posed by distracted driving, is there anything that parents can do to keep their kids safe or, at the very least, reduce their ability to use their cell phone while driving?

Fortunately, parents do have the option of downloading phone apps that are designed to disable a teen driver's phone. The apps accomplish this via GPS sensors, which determine when a vehicle is in motion. As if this wasn't impressive enough, the apps are also designed to alert a parent when their child has deactivated or otherwise immobilized them.

While this can prove to be effective, some safety experts point out that teens may be able to find ways around these apps and that an integrated vehicle system may be a better option.

Here, a tamperproof device is actually installed directly into the vehicle, while an associated app is downloaded to the teen driver's cell phone, and system software is installed on a parent's computer, mobile phone or tablet.

This system then allows a parent to customize cell phone access however they wish. To illustrate, they could ban all texting and permit only hands-free calls to a designated set of phone numbers. Similarly, they could set it up so that all cell phone access in the car -- even for passengers -- is impossible.

"The administrator has the option to make the policy as restrictive as possible, or not," said the marketing director behind a device called Cellcontrol. "You could decide this is the kids' car and we don't want knuckleheads sitting in the passenger's seat showing the driver YouTube videos,"

It's encouraging to see that parents are finally starting to be presented with viable -- and surprisingly affordable -- options for keeping their teen drivers safe behind the wheel.

Are you a parent with teen drivers in your household? Would you consider installing either the apps or the integrated vehicle system to eliminate the temptation of distracted driving?

Source: The Washington Post, "Apps for parents curb distracted teen drivers," Ashley Halsey, April 19, 2014

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