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Status Report, Vol. 44, No. 5 | SPECIAL ISSUE: TEENAGE DRIVERS | May 7, 2009 Subscribe

Variety of gadgets rides shotgun with teenagers

When it comes to selecting a monitoring device for their young drivers, parents have several to pick from, depending on how much they want to know — or in some cases, see — what their teenagers are doing on the road. These devices record data about specific actions such as quick starts and stops, abrupt lane changes and cornering, speed, and safety belt use. Some have global positioning system (GPS) capabilities so parents can pinpoint in real time where their teenagers are driving and even limit where they travel. Others provide feedback, letting drivers know through beeps, buzzes, lights, or verbal warnings if driving should be corrected.

Basic systems

These use a vehicle's electronic onboard diagnostics recorder to store trip information for downloading later. For example, Davis Instruments' Car-Chip plugs into the diagnostics port that's in most 1996 and later vehicles, usually near the steering wheel, and retrieves speed, mileage, and other data from the vehicle control sensors. CarChip can be set to beep if a driver exceeds certain speed thresholds or takes other risks. Road Safety International markets a similar system.

GPS-based systems

These store data on vehicle location, speed, and direction. Some give teens feedback on their driving. Real-time systems automatically can call, email, or text alerts to parents about their teenagers' driving performance.

Inthinc's Tiwi has real-time GPS capabilities. Parents decide what events will trigger alerts and driving reports. They can monitor their teens' real-time habits and location via a website and receive instant phone, text, or email notifications. They can even phone their children directly through the system. When teenagers are at the wheel, they get feedback through audible alerts, either beeps or verbal warnings like "Unsafe acceleration. Ease off gas pedal." The system gives a driver a chance to correct a behavior before parents find out. The unit can compare a vehicle's speed against a proprietary database of posted speed limits.

Video systems

DriveCam is a camera system without GPS tracking. Mounted below the rearview mirror, the camera captures sound inside a vehicle and views of the interior and of the road ahead. DriveCam saves the images if a crash or other specific event occurs. Teenagers know they've triggered a recording if they see the device's green light blink red. Data, including 10 seconds of audio and video before and after an event, are transmitted to a center where analysts review the video and assign a score to the driver (the higher the score, the worse the infraction). Analysts also recommend tips for safer driving. Everything is uploaded to a website where parents and teens can view the video and suggestions. Driving reports that show teenagers how they stack up against peers are mailed to parents each week.

Smart keys

Starting with some 2010 models, Ford is rolling out MyKey, designed to help parents set limits on teenagers' driving. The computer-coded key allows parents to limit maximum speed to 80 mph. A sound chimes and stereo volume mutes if belts aren't buckled. Parents can specify alerts when teens reach 45, 55, or 65 mph. Parents also can specify limits on maximum stereo volume. This system will be standard on the 2010 Focus.

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Gadgets can help watch teen drivers

In-vehicle monitoring devices can help reduce teen crash risk by providing feedback about driving behavior to both teenagers and their parents.

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