Financial Incentives Could Sway Teenagers Prone to Distracted Driving

Distracted Driving Teen

A survey conducted by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia found that a huge majority (nearly 90 percent) of teenagers would be willing to put aside their phones while driving if given certain financial incentives. Teenagers were asked if they would sacrifice texting when behind the wheel if their phone activity were monitored by an app controlled by auto insurers. Insurers would use the app to determine risk levels and then calculate insurance premiums based on said risk levels.

Though 90 percent of survey-takers said they would renounce their phone habits, almost half of them said they wanted to retain certain phone privileges, including control over music and navigation.


Another related study published by Liberty Mutual Holding Co. found that over half of teens text while driving solely because they feel pressure to respond to their parents as soon as possible. When asked about their parents’ expectations, 19 percent of the respondents said their parents desired a response within a minute of the initial text.

Rachel Hare, a 24-year old from Atlanta, spoke about her own experiences driving: “My mom has done that before where she doesn’t know I’m in the car, but she’ll be texting, and be like, ‘Why aren’t you answering right away?’” She continued, “She freaks out.”

This kind of pressure might have something to do with the high levels of fatalities amongst teens prone to distracted driving. According to statistics, gleaned by the Department of Transportation, nearly 3,000 deaths occurred in 2013 as a result of distracted driving, and nearly 10 percent of those fatalities were teen drivers.

Car accidents are the leading cause of death amongst teens, and teenagers between the ages of 15 and 19 are more likely than other age groups to be killed in car crashes as a result of cell-phone use.

Fear of Missing Out

It’s not just overbearing parents. Teens also confess that a lot of the texting has to do with a fear of missing out, or fomo, as it’s sometimes called. Teens use texting to plan the next hang-out spot. As Ryan Tabula, another twenty-something driver, put it: “It’s not that distracting when you’re at a red light, and you just quickly toss a message.” Over 33 percent of teen drivers said they use texting (while behind the wheel) to plan social outings with friends, who may also be driving themselves.

Dr. M. Kit Delgado, lead researcher on the University of Pennsylvania study, remarked on the breadth of the issue: “More than half of teens in the United States admit to texting while driving, and this has become a significant public health issue leading to preventable deaths and disabling injuries,” he said, continuing, “Our study suggests a promising strategy to curb this epidemic would include enabling a phone setting or third party app with automatic responses to incoming texts, but with navigation and music functions accessible, combined with financial incentives to sustain use.”


The NHTSA has suggested the use of a “Do Not Disturb” option, and since last year, iPhones have included a specific option for drivers that precludes phone calls and texts and includes a special message explaining the driver’s predicament.

Whatever the change, it ought to happen soon, as many drivers (nearly 63 percent) have said they’re more afraid of this type of distraction than inebriation. And nearly three-quarters of drivers say they notice other drivers on their phone. Though drunk driving fatalities have diminished over the years, distracted driving amongst teens appears to be on the rise. Teenagers might, therefore, benefit from some financial incentives in the form of lower insurance premiums.

Sean Lally About Sean Lally

Sean Lally holds a BA in Philosophy from Temple University where he also studied theatre for several years. Between 2007 and 2017, he worked as a professional actor for several regional theater companies in Philadelphia, including the Arden Theatre Co., EgoPo Productions, Lantern Theater and the Bearded Ladies. In 2010, Sean co-founded Found Theater Company, an avant-garde artist collective with whom he first started to cultivate an identity as a writer.