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Study: Combination of apps, cash could fight texting and driving

Despite the public education campaigns, new laws and plain common sense, teens continue to text, email, use apps and otherwise engage with their cellphones while driving. More than half of U.S. teens admit to texting and driving even as car crashes became the No. 1 cause of death among American teens. Drivers between 15 and 19 are now more likely than any other age group to be killed in distracted-driving crashes.

What would convince teens to put down their phones when they get behind the wheel?

Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania medical school and Children's Hospital of Philadelphia recently looked into what motivates teens to use their cellphones while driving and what interventions would be effective at stopping them. The researchers concluded that a combination of a restrictive app and a cash incentive might do the trick.

The researchers sent surveys to preselected teens who drove their own cars and who admitted texting while driving within the past month. Ultimately, 153 16- and 17-year-olds responded. About half admitted texting while driving on more than six days in the past month, which was considered "high frequency."

As many as 99 percent said they were either "willing" or "somewhat willing" to forego reading emails and updating social media apps behind the wheel. Ninety-six percent said they were willing or somewhat willing to give up sending texts, and 91 percent would give up reading them. Similar numbers applied to making and receiving phone calls that weren't hands-free.

However, only 55 percent would consider giving up music apps and only 40 percent would forego using navigation apps. The higher frequency users were less willing to put aside their technology while driving.

Most of the teens surveyed said that a financial incentive, such as an insurance discount, would be a very effective way to encourage safer driving practices. About 54 percent said that an automatic block would also work.

Beyond hesitance to set aside music and navigation apps, some teens also said they didn't want an app that would allow their parents to keep tabs on their driving. The financial incentive might overcome this second hesitation, however.

Ideally, the researchers said, there should be an app which disables most phone functions when a car is in motion but which allows music and navigation apps to be used. Such an app, combined with a modest financial incentive, could have a real impact because it might be adopted widely enough to make a difference.

We all have a role to play in reducing distracted driving. If you are or have a teen driver, be sure and discuss practical steps to cut back on dangerous driving behavior.

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