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A multidisciplinary team from the University of Pennsylvania and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia received $1.84 million in federal funds to study the effectiveness of attempts to curb cell phone usage while driving. It is one of the largest federally funded studies focused on this issue. 

Cell phone use during driving leads to 1.6 million crashes each year, while 390,000 injuries result from texting while driving. The study aims to investigate how methods from the field of behavioral economics, such as insurance discounts, can reduce those figures.  

At Penn, behavioral economics has been used in studies to improve children's health and helping people stay fit. In 2011, Penn helped establish the Center for Innovations in Health Care Financing to investigate how behavioral economics can reduce healthcare costs and improve patient health. 

The current study involves researchers from Penn's Center for Health Incentives and Behavioral Economics, the Penn Injury Science Center, the Wharton School, and CHOP's Center for Injury Research and Prevention. 

"By bringing together a team with experience in behavioral economics and behavioral design, traffic safety, statistics, and epidemiology, we'll be able to determine whether these strategies successfully address these other problem areas and can help reduce the dangerous and potentially lethal behavior of using a cell phone while driving," said M. Kit Delgado, one of the researchers on the team, in a press release.

The study will use data collected by Progressive Insurance through an app developed by TrueMotion to investigate strategies for usage-based insurance (UBI) programs. The data includes factors about driving behaviors such as hard braking, speed, miles driven, and phone usage during driving, which can all be used by UBI’s to incentivize safer driving. 

The study will recruit 1,500 drivers from across the nation, assign them to six groups, and then test different behavioral strategies on each group to see which is most effective.

These strategies include insurance discounts for staying off the phone while driving, as well as prompting users to implement settings that automatically silence drivers' notifications.

The study will also test out strategies on employees of large organizations, dividing these workers into teams. These strategies include financial incentives and social recognition for the team that registers the lowest levels of phone use while driving. 

"Given that the impact of current strategies so far has been limited, we hope our research will lead to solutions that can make a difference on a wide scale as use of technology in auto-insurance programs becomes more common," Delgado said in the press release.