Technology in the form of the cellphone has worsened the risks teens face behind the wheel. How fitting, then, if technology could also make them safer.
A number of detection and monitoring products aim to do just that. They generally fall into two categories: video equipment that records what's going on inside and often outside the car, alerting teens and their parents to dangerous driving, and cellphone software that blocks drivers from using their phones when they're behind the wheel.
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Allison Momany says the video camera that was installed behind her rearview mirror during her senior year in high school in Iowa helped cure her of dangerous habits like driving with her knee instead of her hands. Momany was part of a yearlong University of Iowa study examining how different technologies can help teen drivers. If she swerved, stopped suddenly, or made other risky moves, electronic sensors in the car picked up the problem, and a light on the camera alerted her that the system had been triggered. She had 20 seconds to correct the problem before the recording was included in a weekly report to her parents. That was two years ago, but "it sticks with you," says Momany. "Every time I go to drive with my knee, I remember that study."
The University of Iowa study used the DriveCam, one of a number of systems that rely on video cameras to monitor unsafe driving. The system isn't cheap. It costs $900 for the first year and $30 per month after that. Inthinc's Tiwi product is similar, but it also has GPS capabilities, permitting parents to set a "geofence" driving radius or zone. If the car moves outside the zone, the system notifies the parent immediately. Tiwi costs $199, plus $39.99 per month for service.
Some companies are addressing cellphone distraction by disabling the devices' ability to send and receive calls, texts, and E-mails on the road. Once downloaded onto a phone, ZoomSafer software uses the phone's GPS function to detect when a car is traveling faster than 15 miles per hour and then locks the phone's screen and keypad, except for emergency calls. If a teen deletes the software, a notification is sent to the parents. ZoomSafer is available for $2.99 per month or $25 to purchase the software. Other companies are developing similar products, including DriveAssist by Aegis Mobility and Key2SafeDriving by Safe Driving Systems.
Some insurance companies currently offer a discount of 10 to 15 percent for video monitoring systems and might do so for cellphone-disabling services in the future.