Free app locks down teen cellphones
Esurance is offering a free app that will block phone calls, texts and Internet access on mobile devices while a car is in motion to help prevent distracted driving among teens.
Here's how the system works: Esurance drivers download the free app, plug a small device into their car's on-board diagnostics (OBD) port and enter the settings for as many devices as they want to control, including laptops and tablets.
Using a type of Bluetooth technology from Cellcontrol, the device is engaged when a car is in motion and limits mobile device activity during that time. It remains active in the background and usage is blocked until the car is completely stopped.
Policyholders can call Esurance at 1-800-378-7262 and request the plug-in device, which will be sent to them for free, says Danny Miller, Esurance spokesman. You can visit the Esurance teen safety website for more information.
Parents can receive email notifications if a teen driver attempts to disable or remove the device, delete the smartphone app, or switch off Bluetooth functionality. The app also offers customized settings that can:
- Define what to block – texts, email, phone calls and apps are blocked by default, but users can enable calls via a hands-free device or headset.
- Enable web apps – lets the user define which apps can be used, even when the device is in blocking mode, including music and navigation apps.
- Block all but emergency calls – users can make 911 the only number a driver can call while behind the wheel.
- Create a white list – users can also define which numbers the app won't block.
The online car insurance company is hoping teens will use the app, as traffic accidents remain the leading cause of death for teen drivers. Distracted driving is also a nationwide safety issue. The latest distracted driving data shows that 3,331 people were killed in crashes involving a distracted driver in 2011, according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration . An additional 387,000 people were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving a distracted driver. (See: "Crackdown on texting in 2013.")
The app supports Android, BlackBerry and Windows phones. An iPhone version is expected soon.
Esurance says it is the only major insurance company in the U.S. to offer this type of distracted driving solution for its teenage policyholders.
Texting tickets and car insurance
Distracted driving, specifically texting while behind the wheel, can also lead to higher insurance rates, in some states, if you are ticketed. Each state has its own laws governing texting behind the wheel. Currently, 39 states ban texting and driving for all motorists, while others have partial bans, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association. Some states, such as Florida, do not ban texting and driving at all. (See: "The 411 on cellphone tickets.")
In states where texting violations add points to your license or are considered moving violations, such as Nebraska, New York and Wisconsin, your insurer may hike your rates if you're ticketed. Chances of a surcharge are lower in states such as California, Idaho and Tennessee that have laws stating that texting violations cannot result in points on your license or be considered moving violations.
In Idaho, Massachusetts, North Carolina and Washington, state law prohibits insurers from using texting violations to increase your car insurance rates.
Des Toups is a writer, editor and expert on insurance, cars and personal finance. He has written extensively about all three for national publications such as MSN and major newspapers such as the Seattle Times. He has been quoted about insurance issues in The New York Times, USA Today and Kiplinger's. Follow him on Twitter @destoups.