Smartphones are an ever-present device for about 95 percent of today’s teens. The instant access to their online social world allows teens to remain connected 24/7, and this unquenchable demand for virtual interaction has paved the way for tech giants to capitalize on the teenage desire to stay plugged in. Smartphones can now be utilized anywhere, including the car. Connected devices allow for teens to wirelessly plug-in even when they are supposed to be focused on the road ahead.
So what devices should make parents cautious when teens are driving solo? Connected devices that many teens utilize are those that allow them to wirelessly access the internet or favorite apps while driving. Bluetooth devices and even cell phone carrier services for the car—AT&T, T-Mobile and others offer car data plans—can pose a major distraction for young drivers. While these devices might create convenient cell phone ‘hotspots’ that allow for instant and easy access to listen to a playlist or activate necessary GPS functions, they also may encourage teens to utilize distracting apps or streaming services during drive time.
Crash statistics for younger drivers would shock most parents. According to the Centers for Disease Control, in 2015, more than 2,300 teens (aged 16 to 19) were killed in automobile crashes. This age group also “accounted for 11% ($10 billion) of the total costs of motor vehicle injuries.” While any wrong move on the road can influence a crash, one of the biggest issues facing teen drivers is distracted driving. A distraction is any task that takes attention away from driving, including switching a radio station, eating or even turning to look at a friend. But for teens, smartphones are increasingly becoming one of the biggest distractions behind the wheel. According to an article in Newsday, texting has become the number one killer of teen drivers.
Devices that Distract
So how can an innocent Bluetooth or wireless hotspot be such a danger? For teens that have less experience on the road, even the smallest distraction can be deadly. Hot spots allow teens to have online access while driving, which means they can do anything in the car that they can do while using the internet at home. These devices allow teens to have hands-free access for GPS navigation or to stream music. But even GPS and music streaming apps should be activated before going on the road; in fact using a phone to access both GPS apps and music is subject to distracted driving laws. Even mounting the phone can be an issue; some states don’t allow phones to be mounted on the windshield.
Using these devices for apps, movies or other distracting content means that teens need to multi-task; they must focus on the road while engaging with their phone. But multi-tasking is a myth. Inattentional blindness is a term that applies when we fail to see something because our focus is on something else. So while a young driver drifts focus to the images from a GPS instruction or funny video, they may fail to notice a stop sign. While connected car devices allow teens to sync up their phones and enjoy their apps, music or other virtual activity, that convenience may be at the cost of their safety.
Not All Devices Are for Play
Teens may like connected car devices for their ease of connectivity, but, really, these devices also may help protect teen drivers if parents know how to control the devices. The statistics and tragic stories surrounding texting and driving and other distracting driving incidents among teens have created a need for more reassurance and protection among nervous parents. While cell phone carriers offer data plans, these small hubs also have other capabilities that could help keep teen drivers safe.
Verizon’s Hum lets teen drivers access roadside assistance and emergency assistance and also offers vehicle diagnostics. T-Mobile’s SyncUpDrive acts as a mobile hotspot for wifi and also provides maintenance alerts and map-tracking. However, none of these help parents quite like one new model for innovative technology: Focus by TeenDrive.
Focus by TeenDrive
One of the most user-friendly connected devices available for parents to help control distracted driving is Focus by TeenDrive. Focus allows parents to disable a teen’s phone and block distracting apps. However, Focus also doesn’t cut teens off completely. When Focus is activated, teens still have access to their playlist, so parents can rest easy that young drivers aren’t fidgeting with radio controls.
Teens also may enable necessary GPS functions to allow them to safely–and efficiently– find their destination. So how does Focus work? The system is set up by installing the software on both a teen’s and a parent’s phones and placing the data beacon in the car. The beacon uses Bluetooth connectivity to transmit data to the phone. Once a teen driver is mobile, the beacon disables the cell phone. Teens can still make emergency phone calls or listen to music, but the distractions of texts, social media updates and phone calls are eliminated.
While crash statistics among teens is overwhelming to many parents of young drivers, connected devices allow parents to put safety in the driver’s seat. There are many different options for connected car devices; some focus on distracted driving and others may place emphasis on GPS tracking, driving data or even automobile diagnostics. For many parents, devices that disable the phone to avoid the distraction are often the easiest choice. Research your options and find the connected car device that meets your family’s needs and ensures the safety of your young driver.