Perceptions of Smartphone Technology for Reducing Cellphone Use While Driving Among Teen Drivers and Their Parents

In 2016, 9% of drivers 15 to 19 years old involved in fatal crashes were reported as distracted, and handheld cellphone use while driving is highest among 15- to 29-year-old drivers. Smartphone technology can be leveraged to reduce distracted driving by using data directly collected by the phone to remotely monitor phone use while driving. Furthermore, applications and settings can be enabled to automatically restrict engagement with the phone while driving, such as blackening the phone screen, automatically silencing incoming notifications, send automated responses to incoming texts. The authors’ prior survey research has determined that smartphone-based behavioral interventions as a promising approach for reducing phone use among teen drivers. However, little is known about the perceptions of teen drivers and their parents among those who have had first-hand experience with these types of smartphone-based behavioral interventions. The goal of this study was to elicit perceptions of the use of this technology in behavioral interventions and to assess factors that affecting acceptability, appropriateness, feasibility, and adoption. Following completion of an 8-week pilot randomized trial of default technology configurations for reducing cellphone use while driving (NCT02416713) that enrolled 35 teen driver participants aged 16-17 years old, the authors invited all participants and their parents to participate in semi-structured phone interviews to elicit their perceptions of this technology as well as factors critical to effective implementation. Participants completed a baseline survey, a 4-week baseline monitoring phase, followed by a 4-week cellphone blocking intervention. During the trial, participants self-installed a commercially available solar-powered windshield-mounted device paired with a smartphone application to monitor cellphone use while driving and could be activated after the baseline monitoring period to block phone use at speeds >10 miles per hour. When cellphone blocking was activated it would automatically blacken the phone screen, send autoreplies to incoming text messages, and silence notifications. This would occur when the windshield device could detect the phone to be on the driver’s side of the car. The blocking function could be turned off with the touch of a button on the phone screen. The trial had four arms: 1) monitor only control; 2) “opt-in” blocking in which the participant had to remember to turn on blocking setting; 3) “opt-out” blocking in which the blocking setting came on automatically while driving; and 4) “opt-out” blocking with notification” in which the participant’s parent received an email if the blocking was turned off. Participants and parents could open the app or log in into online dashboard to see trip summary data including the amount of time the phone was used during each trip. The authors had 16 teen participants and 14 parents participate in the qualitative interviews, equally distributed across randomization arms. Trained interviewers used an interview guide to elicit perceptions of the technology. The questions for teens focused on their experience of being monitored, reasoning for their phone usage, thoughts on the type of technology, experience with the intervention, and intentions to continue using the technology after the study ended. Interview questions for parents highlighted parent perceptions of teens being monitored, thoughts on blocking technology, experience with intervention, and intentions to have their teen continue use of cellphone blocking technology. The interviews were recorded, transcribed, de-identified and uploaded into qualitative coding program, NVivo 10. A code list developed based on Theory of Planned Behavior to assess attitudes, perceived behavioral control and norms about the technology was used by two research team members to code interviews. The two research team members coded a quarter of the transcripts (4 parent and 4 teen scripts) together to create consensus and agreement. Each coder then separately coded the remaining 22 transcripts. The coded interviews were then analyzed for inter-rater reliability. Inter-rater reliability for the two coders were k=0.71 with 99% agreement. Perceptions regarding blocking technology attitudes among parents and teens were then separately organized into themes of implementation science. Implementation Science outcome measures of acceptability, appropriateness, feasibility, and adoption were applied to measure the success of the blocking technology. Relative to acceptability, the majority of parents had a positive perception of the cellphone blocking technology, where teens provided mixed perceptions. Parents largely indicated that they thought device was helpful in keeping their teen safe. For teens, the positive perceptions were drawn from the knowledge that they were being monitored, which in turn helped curb the temptation to use their phone. Others explained that the monitoring of their driving increased their self-awareness of their driving habits. For the teens and parents alike, the majority of the negative perceptions of the technology derived from technological issues with the device, including sometimes blocking phone use while riding as a passenger. as well as concerns about privacy. Relative to appropriateness, some participants referred to the usage of the device as “frustrating”, “annoying”, and “inconvenient.” This often had to do with the participant having trouble using their phone for non- texting/calling purposes, such as changing music and/or navigation applications. Other participants noted the constant notification that the participant was driving to senders of incoming messages that occurred as being “overkill” For feasibility, most participants were able to install, download the application and pair it with the device, though there were a few challenges with installation of a device in the vehicle, which may have been study-specific. For adoption, parents were accepting of the blocking technology and wanted their teens to continue using the device after the study, whereas teens believed the device worked and was helpful, but were not willing to continue using the device because they perceived it limited the way they could use their phone (e.g. music, maps) or that they felt they were already good drivers. Teen participants also did not want to adopt the technology unless certain aspects of the device—access to music, navigation, passenger mode, technology bugs—were made available, more accessible, or fixed. Overall, teen drivers who tested a phone setting that automatically limited phone use while driving appreciated the technology. However, few if any, endorsed willingness to continue with the device after the study because it limited the way they could use their phone, particularly with accessing navigation and music apps, and technological bugs, including sometimes blocking phone use while riding as a passenger. The results suggest that designing cellphone blocking settings that allow hands-free music and navigation streaming may increase acceptability and adoption among teen drivers. Other behavioral engagement strategies may be needed to encourage sustained used of these settings over time to balance the perceived loss of freedom when using these settings.

  • Supplemental Notes:
    • This paper was sponsored by TRB committee ANB30 Standing Committee on Operator Education and Regulation.
  • Corporate Authors:

    Transportation Research Board

  • Authors:
    • Delgado, M Kit
    • Abdel-Rahman, Dina
    • Barg, Fran
    • Halpern, Scott
    • Swiedler, Reva
    • Flaura, Winston
    • McDonald, Catherine C
  • Conference:
  • Date: 2019


  • English

Media Info

  • Media Type: Digital/other
  • Features: References;
  • Pagination: 6p

Subject/Index Terms

Filing Info

  • Accession Number: 01697711
  • Record Type: Publication
  • Report/Paper Numbers: 19-03659
  • Files: TRIS, TRB, ATRI
  • Created Date: Dec 7 2018 9:35AM