TECH: Is Cell Control The Cure For Distracted Driving?

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We purchased and installed Cell Control, a device that can eliminate texting, keypad dialing, and using apps while driving. Here’s how it went.

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There’s something not quite right about teenagers. They can do complex tasks like calculus and memorize a football playbook or musical composition, but they can’t see their mortality or fully comprehend the consequences of their actions.

That’s where you come in, parent of a teen driver. It’s your job to do what you can to protect not only that child behind the wheel, but also your neighbors from the antics your kid can get up to in your 4,000-pound car.

Texting and driving, or using apps while driving as a teen are illegal in my state, but I see teens driving while distracted regularly. One crashed into the car behind me while I was testing this device. To help make sure I was not propagating the problem, I took action.

Researching A Solution

The plan was to install a device on the vehicle my son uses. I started with my insurance provider, Safety Insurance, to see if they offered any of the devices now on the market that can lock-out a phone from being used while in the car. The answer from Safety was “No, and don’t be expecting any discounts either.” That’s fine with me, as I prefer to go it alone. I was aware of the Cell Control Drive ID product from the Liberty Mutual Insurance Company press releases. That insurer does offer discounts for the use of Cell Control Driver ID.

Cell Control Driver ID starts with a small unit that mounts behind the rear view mirror. In our Toyota Highlander, it is not visible to the driver at all once installed. An app is then downloaded to the phone or phones that the owner wishes to restrict while in the car.

The Cell Control Driver ID unit was intelligently designed. It is solar powered and never needs charging. Once active, the unit knows which side is left and right and it can tell if the phone is in the driver’s area or passenger’s area. So a passenger can use the phone if one programs the settings that way. Or one can make it so the phone won’t work in the car at all.

My son has his own car and isn’t a passenger in it often, so we started out with full vehicle blocking.

Cell Control Driver ID can disable keypad dialing and handheld calls, but still allow an incoming hands-free call to be taken. Or all calls can be shut off. 911 always works. We opted for allowing hands-free incoming calls.

Texting is included in the “Apps” setting. Once that is set to “off”, Pokemon Go and texting are not possible inside the car, but neither are navigation apps. The settings are controlled by the parent via an on-line account. If the kid turns the app off, Cell Control immediately rats him out via e-mail to the account-holder parent.

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Setup Cell Control Driver ID

First, the unit is registered and then the app installed. I installed the app on my son’s iPhone 6S (a modern iPhone model) and also my older Android phone, so I could test it myself. The iPhone requires a few more steps than the Android.

In fact, they behave somewhat differently. The Android phone app sleeps until it senses that it is inside the car and the car is moving, then it wakes up and puts the phone into Safe mode. On an iPhone, the Cell Control Driver ID system is more alert, and the app seems to be more actively running at all times. It uses more battery on the iPhone as well.

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Total install time was less than 15 minutes. Upon installation, all was well, and the phones seemed to respond properly. Once we finished, we left the car and went inside. My son then turned the app off. This is his habit, and it goes back to the early days of his first iPhone 4. Back then, we discovered that battery and data were used up by constantly running apps, so he has the habit of shutting off most apps not in actual use. I also shut down apps on my phone out of habit.

Cell Control Driver ID can’t work that way. If the app is shut off, it sends the person who shut if off and the parent the message mentioned above. We called Cell Control customer service and an agent immediately answered our call and confirmed this is the only way it can work. My son immediately started to grumble about the app being on all the time.

The Results

In our use, the Cell Control Driver ID did indeed block the ability to text and use apps. At this point, we will stop and say that the system is a complete success. It does block texting effectively and also the use of apps like Pokemon Go. Its $129 retail price makes it is easy to say this is cheap insurance against the tragedy it can prevent.

What I like about this device is that it enables me to have the peace of mind that the car and child I am responsible for are not part of the texting and driving nonsense so common today. The app uses about 1% to 2% battery life per hour when idle. Our colleagues at Consumer Reports also tested this system and were kind enough to compare notes with us. Our battery life data matched. Don’t discount the system strictly due to its battery use complaints found in on-line reviews.

 – Long-Term Update May 2017– After a drained battery, numerous occasions when the Apple App needed to be re-installed, and the expected teenager push-back, we cannot say it has been completely trouble free. However, we still use it, and have found it a valuable tool. Be patient.

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The Unexpected Big Brother Issue

Cell Control Driver ID can do more, and it has a bit of a darker side. It plots a map of where each trip is driven and makes that info available to the person in control of the account. In other words, you can see where your kid goes. The device also tracks how the car is used. It monitors speeds and knows how hard the brakes are applied and scores the trips the user takes. For commentary on that, we are taking the unusual step of having another author with strong feelings on this weigh in, our own Nicole Wakelin.

Counterpoint By Nicole Wakelin

Part of growing up is learning to be responsible and make good decisions. Nanny devices take away that opportunity and show a kid their parents don’t trust them. I want my kids to learn to make good choices not have the issue forced because I’m spying on them, which is my second issue.

Kids need their privacy. I wouldn’t read their diaries or scroll through their cell phones checking texts. Keeping tabs on exactly where they drive and how they drive is an invasion of privacy. It’s my job as a parent to teach them how to make decisions on their own. Nanny devices aren’t the solution. Instead, they just push the problem a few years down the road.


Helping your teen stay away from texting and apps while driving is possible, but like all parenting decisions isn’t without some fallout or unexpected consequences. There is a Big Brother issue, and the technology has some inconveniences that one must accept for Cell Control Driver ID to work. Truth be told, I was on the fence about keeping it until my test drive. My phone also has the app, and I wanted to see it in action.

I drove my younger son to an event near the high school both my kids attend. Shortly after I left, I saw a child waiting to cross the street. I stopped. The car behind me stopped as did oncoming traffic. Then, BANG! A car behind mine had smashed full speed into the stopped car behind me. The impact sent it hurtling into the oncoming lane. A dazed teen was behind the wheel of a wrecked compact crossover one day prior to the start of the new school year.

Yup, we are going to give Cell Control Driver ID a little longer before quitting on it. It could have been my car that was hit, or my kid behind the wheel.

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