There are a number of devices that can promote driving safety for your teen. Initially, teens are not going to like the idea of being spied on or having a car-device track or limit what they can do behind the wheel. Yet parents can help blunt this reaction by accompanying such monitoring with the possibility of increased driving privileges for good behavior. Jim Buczkowski, director of Ford’s electronic systems engineering says that in focus groups, “negative reaction (to a black box that monitored driving and limited speed) fell to 36% when kids realized it could mean being allowed to drive more often.” (Mahoney, 2009) Eighty-percent of teens who participated in studies by the IIHS measuring the usefulness of tracking technology said the devices made them more conscientious. (ibid) Yet only a handful of parents actually checked the results. So they can serve as a type of panopian prison.

Here are some examples of the different safe driving devices out there and a little bit of information about each one.

A black box for your teen’s car

A product such as Mobile TEEN GPS, which costs $299 for the device and $29.95/month, can be installed on your teen’s car. It will track not only where they are and where they go, but how fast they are driving. There are a variety of other similar programs that allow parents to track exactly what goes on in their teen’s car, some in real time from your computer. Your teen is likely to consider this extremely intrusive, and it may be a little on the side of obsessive parenting, but it can be a good tool for those parents who worry a lot.

Some insurance companies offer their own tracking options, which usually monitor for speed, swerving, hard braking and sudden acceleration. You can also install a device such as CarChip which monitors speed and driving tendencies and will also let you know what happened in the event of a crash.

DriveCam is one of a number of systems that rely on video cameras to monitor unsafe driving. At $900 for the first year and $30 per month after that, the systems aren’t cheap. Some will turn on when electronic motion sensors in the car detect risky driving. Some teens say it’s helped to curb their risky driving habits, such as driving with their knees, and a University of Iowa study has found some benefits to these technologies in terms of improving driving habits. (Andrews, 2010)

Other products set up a “geo fence” driving radius or zone, which notifies notifies parents if the car moves outside the zone. Some insurance companies currently offer a discount of 10% to 15% for video monitoring systems.

Call in bumper-stickers for your teen driver

Parents can get bumper-stickers with a call in number to place on their teen’s car, in which other drivers can call in to report how they are driving, similar to the numbers you’ve seen on the back of big rigs. These stickers are not so much intended for policing purposes, so that parents can catch their teen doing something wrong, but for the boost it provides from a basic principle of psychology: People tend to self-monitor their own behavior better when they feel as though they could be being monitored, regardless of whether or not they actually are. It was championed by English philosopher Jeremy Bentham beginning in 1785, who envisioned a prison where guards could see the inmates but the inmates couldn’t see the guards. He theorized that the inmates would self-monitor themselves, even when there were no guards in the tower, because of the possibility that someone could be watching. In the same manner, merely having the bumper-sticker on the back of the car provides the possibility that someone might call in if they speed or drive recklessly, which in principle should cause them to be more conscientious of their driving in general.

There are several companies that offer such things. Call My Mom is a non-profit that distributes bumper stickers with a number and code for the back of teen windows. 18664RTeens.com is another one, which charges $60 per year for a bumper sticker and call in number. You can also do this yourself. Print a page that says “How’s my driving?” with your own number underneath, and then tape it to the inside of the back window. Just keep in mind, you’ll be fielding the calls yourself, and there’s always the likelihood that some calls will not be legitimate. For example, peers could use it as a way to attack your child, and sometimes people who drive unsafely themselves (speeding and riding up against your bumper) may call because a child’s driving irritated them, even when the teen was doing nothing wrong.

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