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Insurance device targeting teen distraction approved in New York

The New York State Department of Financial Services has just approved a voluntary program through the insurance company Esurance that allows parents to block certain types of cellphone use when a car is in motion. The program, called “DriveSafe,” gives policyholders of the Allstate subsidiary to install a free device on the cars their teen drivers use. When a corresponding app is installed on the teen’s phone, the device communicates with the phone, blocking its use for certain purposes. It can also monitor teens’ driving behavior.

The program fits neatly within one of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s top safety priorities: increasing drivers’ awareness of the dangers of texting while driving. While the drunk driving rate has been declining overall, his office says, the rate at which drivers are using cellphones to talk, text, access the Internet or perform other distracting activities continues to grow.

Between 2005 and 2011, according to a DFS press release, the rate of distracted-driving accidents in New York skyrocketed by some 143 percent. In 2011 alone, there were 25,165 crashes involving injuries and fatalities attributed to distracted driving in the state -- more than five times as many as were caused by drunk driving.

The number of texting-while-driving tickets issued by New York law enforcement also jumped -- by 234 percent -- between 2011 and 2012. While that undoubtedly represents increased enforcement efforts, the number of drunk-driving arrests dropped by 4 percent over the same period.

Esurance’s DriveSafe devices and app are free for policyholders who have teen drivers between 15 and 19 on their policies. Parents can customize the technology to block a range of phone activities while the vehicle is in motion, including texting, emailing, app use, and phone calls to numbers other than 911. It can also keep a record of driving behaviors such as hard braking, quick acceleration and speeding, which parents can access online.

Texting while driving is not limited to teen drivers by any means, of course. It might be a good idea for all drivers to consider similar measures to manage their own temptation to engage in distracting behaviors -- and to take a hard look at their own driving habits. Please drive safely.

Source: Insurance Journal, "N.Y. Approves Esurance Program Aimed at Preventing Teen Texting and Driving," Dec. 18, 2013

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