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PAS: Smartphone Blocker App Could Aid Teen Driving Safety

New study suggests experimental device helps reduce high-risk driving events

TUESDAY, April 28, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- A smartphone app that cuts off teenagers' cell service when they turn on the car ignition may help reduce their accident risk, according to a preliminary new study scheduled for presentation at the annual meeting of the Pediatric Academic Societies, held from April 25 to 28 in San Diego.

For the study, investigators divided 29 drivers between 15 and 18 years of age into three groups that were followed for six months. Cars driven by the first group were left as is, while the second group's cars were outfitted with a video camera mounted to the rearview mirror and linked to an accelerometer. The bi-directional camera kept an interior/exterior record of all high-risk driving events, such as sudden braking or swerving, for later parental/driver review. The third group's cars were outfitted with the camera plus a programmable device that blocked all calls and texts on smartphones linked via an app to the car's ignition.

Teens who drove cars outfitted with either the camera alone or the camera plus the phone-blocking technology saw their frequency of high-risk driving events drop by almost 80 percent, the researchers found. Also, phone-related high-risk events seemed to drop the most among teens whose phones were blocked. However, the study's small size meant this observation did not reach statistical significance.

Lead author Beth Ebel, M.D., M.P.H., an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle, told HealthDay that the phone-block device and app are inexpensive and widely commercially available. The camera device is sometimes provided by car insurance companies for free to new drivers. "Teens appreciate full well that texting is risky. And they, like all of us, almost uniformly know that it's illegal to text while driving, and yet still there's the compulsion to do it. So it's kind of a great challenge for public health," Ebel said

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