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

Insurers take high-tech approach to teen drivers

Recognizing that teen drivers are a special group, many auto insurers have programs that feature contracts between beginners and their parents, educational videos, online surveys, and practice driving logs to encourage safe habits. A few insurers provide free or discounted monitoring devices to policyholders with teen drivers. Interested parents should check what's available, including these 5 programs:

Safeco Insurance, a unit of Liberty Mutual, uses a GPS monitoring device called safety beacon in the Teensurance program it launched in 2007. The system and online programs allow parents to monitor teens' driving habits and locations in real time. You don't have to be a Safeco customer to enroll, but policyholders get premium discounts.

21st Century uses the MobileTEEN real-time tracking system to help parents keep tabs on their teen drivers. Parents get email or text alerts if their child's car exceeds predefined speed limits or is driven beyond certain boundaries or past curfew. The GPS device is free to 21st Century customers.

American Family Insurance offers DriveCam to policyholders through the Teen Safe Driver Program. DriveCam is a camera system without GPS tracking. Parents and teens can go online to review audio and video footage of risky driving actions that triggered the camera. Weekly report cards help teens see how their driving rates against their peers. Use is free to policyholders for the first year.

Progressive's MyRate program is marketed for all drivers, not just teens. A black box records things like speed, braking, time of day, and miles driven and then wirelessly transmits the information to a processing center. A website allows drivers to review trip data. The system doesn't have GPS, so it can't keep tabs on where a vehicle is driven. Safe drivers get discounts.

GMAC's Low Mileage Discount Program with OnStar gives drivers of General Motors vehicles incentives to limit their car trips. OnStar just records odometer readings, not speed or other driving data. It doesn't continuously track a vehicle's whereabouts. That only happens if there's a crash or the vehicle is stolen. The program is for drivers of all ages.

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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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