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In-Car Cameras Help Teens Recognize and Address Crash Risk

Some parents are using them to monitor their newly licensed teen's driving. Is the practice too draconian or an effective way to coach the age group with the highest crash risk?

Imagine you’re a newly licensed teen driver and your parents announce they’re installing a camera in your car that will trigger when something out of the norm (i.e., hard acceleration, sudden braking or turns) happens. Sound horrifying or a bit draconian? Just last week while attending the 30th annual Lifesavers Conference in Orlando, I met two teens–Joy and JD from Washington and Minnesota, respectively–whose parents did just that. 

“At first I thought no way,” said 16-year-old JD, but several months later he’s singing a much different tune. “I can honestly say it’s changed how I think about driving. I know I have to pay attention.” JD shared a video clip showing how he nearly ran off the road when he attempted to text while driving. The camera was activated not because he was texting, but by the sudden turn of the wheel.

Meanwhile, the look of surprise on 17-year-old Joy’s face, captured by the in-car camera when she braked to avoid hitting a pedestrian, has prompted her to be more conscious of what’s going on around her. “I was so busy singing to my music that I didn’t see the pedestrian in the road. After watching the video clip, I realized that I not only need to pay attention, but always be looking ahead.”

Both teens are participating in a program sponsored by American Family Insurance (AFI) in partnership with DriveCam’s Teen Safe Driver Program. The award-winning program is offered free to families with teen drivers for one year. During that time, a camera mounted inside the vehicle records sound, the vehicle’s occupants, and the view out of the windshield and back window. A light on the camera flashes, then turns red when it detects risky moves like slamming on the brakes, speeding away, swerving, and crashes. The images are sent wirelessly to a center where analysts review the tape, assign a risk score and offer ways to improve a teen’s driving skills. All of this (including the video clips) are emailed weekly to mom and dad. 

“My parents and I agreed that if I reached a certain score, I’d lose my driving privileges,” said Joy. So far that hasn’t happened, but she admits to being close a few times. “I’ve had months where my score wasn’t so great, but over the past few months I’ve definitely made improvement. The coaching advice that comes with the video clips is helping me and my parents recognize what I need to work on.”

How are their friends reacting to the cameras? “My friends thought it was nuts,” said JD. “But now some of them are talking to their parents about getting in the program." He also noted that it has helped him address the peer pressure that often results when a teen obtains a license. “I have friends who want me to give them a ride or do crazy things and I tell them you know I’ve got a camera in the car.”

As the mother of a soon to be licensed teen driver, I like the idea of using this technology (University of Maryland research finds that it's effective) as a coaching tool as he begins driving solo. Staying on top of a teen’s behind-the-wheel skill development is critical since the crash risk is the highest during the first 30 days of independent driving and remains extremely high throughout the probationary license period (that’s the unsupervised phase of our state’s Graduated Driver License or GDL program). Sure, I’m a safety advocate who has been working to address teen crash risk for nearly two decades, but I’m also a mother who wants to ensure that her only child makes it through his most dangerous driving years.

Currently, the AFI program isn’t available in New Jersey, but I can still take advantage of DriveCam’s Teen Safe Driver Program. The camera is $495, installation is $50 (it can be done by visiting a local Best Buy), and the monthly service fee is $30 when purchased in a start-up package with one year of service (families who opt to keep the camera installed after the first year, pay $30 a month for continued service). It’s not cheap. According to DriveCam, the cost is comparable to a cell phone or a sports club team fee. I did the math and as a hockey family, we easily pay about  $300 a month to support my son’s ice habit. So looking at it that way, I’m going to sit up and take notice when DriveCam (and I have no connection to the company), points out that the device can potentially save me thousands of dollars and heartache by preventing an expensive crash.  

Would my son be happy about having a camera in the car? Probably not, but just like having a coach on the ice, he’ll now have one in the car. Frankly, he has been coached to improve his ice hockey skills since the age of six, so why not make a similar investment in a critical life skill? Helping him improve his higher level driving skills (i.e., risk assessment, visual scanning, etc., which  AAA research
shows often doesn’t happen during the supervised driving or permit phase of licensure) and recognize the responsibility that comes with driving are essential
and I would add well worth the investment. 

I should point out that I’ll be driving the same car as my son which means my risky actions would be captured on video as well. I’m open to that–hockey professionals (or any sports pro for that matter) use coaches and video feedback to improve their game. So why not apply the same techniques to driving? Despite having my license for more than three decades, I’ve still got plenty of room for improvement. 

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Rita Carraher July 30, 2012 at 01:17 PM
Yes, I agree with having this device, but just like the ON-STAR which I once had and used for hands free driving, it is costly and only can be afforded by those with sufficient incomes; mine of which is no longer in that category. I also have a 16 year old who I am teaching to drive and when it is time to drive solo, I have my concerns. All cars should have hands free devices such as ON-STAR for communication and this newest technology should be affordable for all. Our children's lives are priceless.

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