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New Technologies Make Teens with Smartphones Safer Drivers

April 27, 2015

Driving with a smartphone can be a welcome addition to a driver's arsenal of tools. Not only can it take the place of a dedicated dash-mounted GPS system, offering turn-by-turn directions and readily updated maps, it can even be put to work as a replacement for radio, offering the best of streaming music while driving. But anyone knows that a powerful tool can be dangerous, and driving with a smartphone has great potential to make for distracted driving. That's a point that can be addressed with some new technologies, and researchers are seeking to prove the value of said technologies.

A study created by Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center Dr. Beth Ebel—who also serves as an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington School of Medicine—took a look at two different technologies to help with distracted driving. The first was a camera system that could be mounted in the vehicle that would be triggered by several “high-risk driving events” like hard braking or cornering that generated G-force in excess of a certain amount. The second was a blocking device that prevented calls from either going into or coming out from a mobile device while driving. Both devices are currently available, and can be picked up at any time.

A group of 29 teenagers were put into one of three groups; a control group with no intervention, one that used only the camera, and one that used both the camera and the call blocker. A program on the driver's smartphone showed how many minutes teens spent talking on the device, and how many texts were sent from that device. The results, meanwhile, went about as should be expected: the control group showed the highest number of high-risk driving behaviors, while the groups with intervention systems both saw reduced numbers. But the blocking program users saw the greatest drop in high-risk behavior.

Questions about the study remain. Small, unusually skewed sample sizes using odd methodology might raise some eyebrows. Why is there an odd number sample size for a three-group project? Why not a fourth group using just blocking software? Additionally, there's the “I'm being watched” phenomenon to consider here; was it really the cameras and the blocking software that made the teenagers less apt to engage in risky behavior? Or was it the fact that the teenagers were being clearly, knowingly, watched in the first place? A look at the study abstract, meanwhile, notes that the sample size is comprised of 16 female and 13 male drivers, another odd skewing. Thankfully, the study acknowledges itself to be a “small study,” and that certainly helps.

Though the project does raise a few questions, it provides a basis for further study. Based on what's known so far, having some kind of intervention devices in place can be a huge help in terms of making teenagers safer drivers. Today's teenage driver is tomorrow's everyday driver, and we need drivers to keep the economy going. Making sure those drivers become safe ones—at least, until driverless cars become part of everyday use—will be highly important to our tomorrow as a country.




Edited by Dominick Sorrentino

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