We work with car accident victims all the time, so we know that one of the most dangerous driving behaviors a person can engage in is texting and driving. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that teens in particular are in grave danger of car accidents when using cell phones. Their studies show that teenagers are six times more likely to crash if they just dial a cell phone while driving. When texting  the chances of having a crash increase to 23 times normal.

texting and driving appIn Maryland, recent laws have made it illegal to use handsets while driving, whether talking on the phone, dialing, or texting. However, many teens feel that if it’s just a “one time deal” or if the message is urgent, that it’s acceptable to text and drive.

To combat this sort of behavior, even when intentions are the best, there’s a new tool being tested by at least one insurance company: A smartphone app combined with a telematics device that plugs into the diagnostics port on a car.

It works like this: the telematics device plugs into the car and connects to an app on the phone. When the car is in motion, the app prevents the phone from using text message features.

In addition to that, the app and telematics device can collect complex data about the driving habits of each person using the car. For example, the program can alert parents if a teen driver engages in “risky” driving behavior such as sudden stops, quick acceleration, speeding, or getting too far away from home.

At the moment, the only insurance company using the technology this way, Esurance, is claiming that data collected will never be shared with the insurance company itself. Instead, data is sent to a third party which provides the information back to parents or app users. Theoretically insurance rates should not increase if your teen speeds through the school zone at 75 miles an hour.

telematics deviceThe app allows users to block other programs and functions for when the car is in motion. For example, if you know you can’t resist checking that latest email when you hear your phone alert you, you can tell the app to disable email functionality, or Facebook, or web browsing.

Another interesting feature for those who know their teens all-too-well: If a driver attempts to remove the telematics device, or disable the app, the program sends a notification to the parents (or whoever set it up) letting them know what is going on.

As of now this new system is only being used by Esurance, only works on android phones, and is only available to families with teen drivers; but it can’t be long before other companies pick up on the technology and come up with similar solutions.  Other companies are experimenting with alternative ways to disable text messaging through phone functions like “Near Field Communication” where a simple sticker is placed in the car and when the phone is placed next to it, it automatically disables dangerous functions till you leave the vehicle.

We look forward to seeing other ways that technology helps keep us safer on the roads.