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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Washington Research Finds Cameras, Cell-phone Blocking Could Reduce Teen Distracted Driving

Blocking cell phones inside of cars and filming teens while they drive could reduce distracted driving, according to research from the University of Washington Schools of Medicine and Public Health.

Beth Ebel Laura Blanar
[Photo: Dr. Beth Ebel (left) and Ms. Laura Blanar]

Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of accidental death for teens. Studies suggest the use of voice and text devices while driving is associated with crash risks up to 24 times higher than when cell phones are not used, said Dr. Beth Ebel. She is a core member of the Harborview Injury Prevention Center at the University Washington, associate professor of pediatrics, and adjunct associate professor of epidemiology and health services.

Dr. Ebel and colleagues conducted a pilot study of two interventions. One used an in-vehicle camera system that was triggered when teens braked or swerved too hard. A video recorder captured events that parents and teens could review. The second was a device that blocked incoming and outgoing calls and texts when the vehicle was being operated.

Twenty-nine teens were randomized to one of three groups: camera only, camera plus cell phone blocking, or a control group. Using a program installed on the driver’s smartphone, researchers could see how many minutes teens spent talking and how many texts they sent while driving over a six-month period.

High-risk driving events were reduced by nearly 80 percent in the intervention groups, the researchers said.

“The risks of electronic distraction for young drivers are very real, but facts and figures have not done enough to change driver behavior,” Dr. Ebel said. “The results of our study suggest that technological programs that may help limit exposure to distraction for novice drivers are accepted by teens and lowered risky driving.”

The research was presented April 29 at the Pediatric Academic Societies annual meeting in San Diego. In a related study presented at the meeting, Dr. Ebel and Ms. Laura Blanar, a PhD student in health services, explored the crash risks associated with distracted driving among Washington state drivers ages 16 to 18 in 2012.

They found that among teens cited for distracted driving, 31 percent were later involved in a police-reported crash, compared with 4 percent of drivers without a citation.

Link to abstracts: