How to Motivate Your Teen to Be a Safer Driver

With summer in full swing and the lifting of pandemic restrictions, more teens are getting behind the wheel. And they take their smartphones.

Phone-related distractions are a leading cause of teen accidents, but that phone has also started providing information to parents who want to make sure their young drivers are safe.

Through apps from insurers and other providers, parents can track their teens on the road and see how well they drive. The question is: How is this new information used effectively?

An old parenting dilemma is whether and when to use positive reinforcement or punishment with children. When it comes to teen driving, the stakes are high in choosing the right approach. Do you take away driving privileges from teens if tracking apps show they are speeding or using their phones too much while driving, or are you concentrating on what they’re doing right?

Summer is the most dangerous time of year for car accidents, and new teen drivers are three times more likely than adults to be involved in a fatal accident, according to the American Automobile Association. Distraction plays a role in about 6 out of 10 teen crashes. Holding a phone while driving has been shown to increase the risk of a crash or near collision up to four times, and staring at a phone for more than two seconds exponentially increases crash risk, according to an analysis of teen driving studies and the cell phone. use.

Steve Herman has four daughters and sons, ranging in age from 18 to 25. And they’re all still on your State Farm insurance plan. Herman, a store operations consultant in New Albany, Ohio, had been using State Farm’s Drive Safe & Save app to monitor his young drivers and receive insurance discounts if they drove without speeding or braking too much. He and his wife frequently discussed the children’s driving grades with them. Things got competitive.

Steve and Diane Herman, at their home in New Albany, Ohio, use apps to monitor their young drivers, including Olivia, seated, and Rachel, right.


Maddie McGarvey for EDL

“It was quickly turning negative,” Herman said.

“It got a little tense worrying about my score,” said her 18-year-old daughter Olivia Herman. “I don’t get text alerts while driving, but I do receive phone calls and accept them when driving. . “

A State Farm spokesperson said the app positively reinforces safe driving behavior by offering discounts on insurance premiums of up to 30%. He said the company saw a 67% increase in customers who signed up for the app last year. Numerous insurance providers and other companies have developed applications that provide drivers with data on their driving performance.

At times, Mr. Herman noticed periods when the app was not displaying any driving data. He discovered that some of his children were turning off the location on their phones. The downfall of many driver tracking apps and do not disturb phone settings is that teens can find ways to avoid tracking. Ms. Herman said that she never turned off the location data on her phone, but that at times she had not logged into the State Farm app on her phone.

Olivia Herman and Steve, her father, found that positive reinforcement worked better than focusing solely on her driving score.


Maddie McGarvey for EDL

New research is emerging showing that positive reinforcement works better with drivers, according to a study from Australia and preliminary findings from researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, who are still analyzing data collected from more than 2,000 drivers. In their study, a group of drivers received weekly feedback from Progressive Auto Insurance’s Snapshot app about how their hand phone use while driving compared to that of others in their age group; another group received up to $ 50 at the end of a seven-week period if their phone use was among the lowest in their demographic; and another received both the feedback and the monetary incentive.

Another group received weekly feedback and weekly incremental incentives that could add up to $ 50 if the driver used the phone relatively little during the seven weeks. Depending on the use of their phone compared to others during the week, they would either make or lose money. They would receive text message notifications informing them how much of their weekly allowance they had received or sacrificed.

Drivers who were promised money at the end of the study to keep their phone use comparatively low showed a 17% reduction in phone use, compared to a control group. Drivers whose earnings were spread out week after week fared better, reducing their phone use by 23%. “Showing people how much they lost each week brought regret,” said study lead author Kit Delgado, an emergency room physician and associate director of the Center for Health Incentives for Health and Behavioral Economics at the University of Pennsylvania.

This life-saving app offers rewards for teens who don’t use their phones while driving (except for navigation, music, and hands-free calls).


Maddie McGarvey for EDL

Herman, the father from Ohio, decided he needed to take a more positive approach, so he had his children install an app he had been using for a while called This App Saves Lives, which rewards people for not using their phones while they lead. After each trip, people who don’t use their phones for anything other than navigation, music, and hands-free calling earn points that can be redeemed for free or discounted food and gift cards. While you still use the State Farm app, it only looks at your children’s grades when reimbursement occurs every six months.

She said her children have responded better to positive reinforcement than to her emphasis on their scores, and the frequent and tangible benefits of reward-based application have resonated with them. It is too early to determine how much his driving has improved, he said, but his scores so far have been good.

Ms. Herman, her daughter, said the app has helped her become more aware of her phone use while driving, and getting discounts at her favorite cookie shop helps her. “It’s something to look forward to, rather than seeing all the things I did wrong,” he said.

What you can do

Dr. Delgado, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, said it’s more effective to show teens how to eliminate phone-related driver distractions, rather than simply scolding them for not using the phone. Plus, adopting these practices can help you stay safe, too.


Which method have you found most effective in encouraging your teen to drive safely? Join the conversation below.

He followed people whose phone use had dropped dramatically during a previous study to find out what they had done differently. He learned that their driving habits had been redesigned to increase safety. Based on those findings, he offered the following suggestions:

Enable Do Not Disturb. In your phone settings, have Do Not Disturb While Driving to be turned on automatically, instead of manually turning it on every time you drive. Doing so will mute text messages and other notifications while your car is in motion. This can be done on the iPhone and on certain Android phones. For Android phones that don’t have these settings, there are some third-party apps that can silence alerts.

Schedule apps before driving. Program your destination into your navigation app before you drive away from the curb, and set up a playlist to play your favorite songs or podcasts before driving.

Buy a phone holder. Mounting your phone in the car at eye level reduces the amount of time your eyes wander off the road, as well as the amount of time you are handling your phone. My colleague Joanna Stern reviewed several in this column. Using a dash phone interface like Android Auto or Apple‘s

CarPlay, which is built into many newer cars, can also help reduce telephone tampering.

Write to Julie Jargon in [email protected]

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