How to Stop Teens from Texting While Driving

Teens who admit to texting while driving may be convinced to reduce risky cellphone use behind the wheel when presented with financial incentives, according to a new survey conducted by researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine and CHOP. The researchers asked students to consider strategies or factors that would help them refrain from texting while operating a vehicle, especially measures that could be implemented through technology-assisted controls or incentives.

The vast majority of the teens indicated that they were “willing” or “somewhat willing” to give up reading emails (99 percent), social media apps (99 percent), sending texts (96 percent), reading texts (91 percent), and making or receiving non-hands-free calls (94 and 91 percent, respectively) while driving. Far fewer of them were willing or somewhat willing to give up music apps (55 percent) or navigation apps (40 percent).

The researchers asked participants to consider several possible factors or strategies that could discourage them from texting while driving, such as an annual insurance premium discount, or a cash reward for every week in which they don’t text and drive. Most of the teens indicated that financial incentives would be “very effective,” but many (54 percent) also indicated that automatic phone locking while driving would work.

“More than half of teens in the United States admit to texting while driving, and this has become a significant public health issue leading to preventable deaths and disabling injuries,” said study lead author M. Kit Delgado, Penn assistant professor of emergency medicine. “Our study suggests a promising strategy to curb this epidemic would include enabling a phone setting or third party app with automatic responses to incoming texts, but with navigation and music functions accessible, combined with financial incentives to sustain use.”

When asked why they wouldn’t want to use cellphone apps that monitor driving behavior, the survey participants cited an aversion to letting parents monitor their behavior as their top reason. A modest financial incentive may be enough to outweigh such concerns, Dr. Delgado said, though he noted “we need a better understanding of how to design interventions that optimally balance parental engagement and acceptance by teens.”