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Gadgets won’t stop text driving

By Jay MacDonald ·
Tuesday, September 4, 2012
Posted: 10 am ET

Auto insurance companies are closely watching today's revolution in mobile connectivity for good reason. Research shows that driving while carrying on an (inter)face-to-(inter)face conversation, whether verbal or via text, contributes to some 3,000 fatalities per year.

Driving while texting is one instance in which multitasking can quite literally kill you, and teens are disproportionately the victims. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death among teens, who are four times more likely to crash their ride than older drivers. The carnage prompted U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to label cell use while driving a "national epidemic" and call for a nationwide ban.

Ironically, concerned auto insurance companies are using similar technology to virtually climb into your back seat to keep a closer eye on their interests. Programs such as Progressive's "Snapshot" and State Farm's "Drive Safe & Save" offer premium discounts if you'll let them electronically ride along and monitor your driving. The great unknown, of course, is whether your rates will go up if the company doesn't like the way you roll.

Even mobile apps are climbing aboard. One Florida app designer tweaked those ubiquitous "How's My Driving?" bumper stickers into a parental version that reads, "How is my KID driving? Push Text my tag #." Drivers who download his free Push Text app on their smartphone can then send Mom and Dad anonymous critiques of their teen's driving via text message.

Which, critics point out, would seem to encourage the very behavior it's attempting to prevent.

How's the search for a solution going? Here's my score card:

  • Government ban? Wishful thinking. We can't even get all states to mandate seat belts (I'm talking to you, New Hampshire).
  • Auto insurance "safe driver" monitoring? Ineffective. Short of a dashboard camera (a hard sell to the 'rents), it's going to be very difficult to isolate cellphone use -- except, sadly, after the crash.
  • Mobile apps? Perhaps, if someone can develop one that isn't part of the problem.

I've previously suggested a responsible move that insurers might consider that would save lives: Make gadget use while driving an exclusion to personal and commercial auto policies. But this hit-them-in-the-wallet approach will never happen because insurers would view it as a turnoff to potential customers.

Anyone have a new solution to this "national epidemic?"

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