• Dec 22, 2010
Devices like the Safe Driver can track your teen's driv... Devices like the Safe Driver can track your teen's driving habits, but is it really the right thing to do? (Lemur Vehicle Monitors)
There are dozens of devices that can track the whereabouts of your car, and we recently spent time testing a simple and inexpensive unit called the Safe Driver from Lemur Vehicle Monitors. Safe Driver is intended as a tattletale for parents to monitor how their teens are driving. But unlike GPS-based systems that require downloading to computers, subscribing to a satellite service, or hiding somewhere on the car, the Lemur system is cheap (about $60), easy to install (a tiny box plugs into the car's OBDII port under the dash and transmits wirelessly to a key fob attached to the car's keyring), and simple.

The company makes a trio of monitors, one that allows you to set a speed limit and sound an alarm if you exceed it, one that tells you your fuel economy and cost per trip, and this one, which records the distance driven, any stop that activates the anti-lock brakes, and the maximum speed reached by the car. If the device is unplugged, it will display a "Tamper" message, so the parent will know that the teen has deactivated the unit. During a week's driving in the mountains of northern California, we found it works as promised. But using this device, or other more complex tracking systems, raises other questions -- like whether parents should be surveilling their children at all.

Anthony E. Wolf, an expert on teen behavior and author of the book "Get Out of My Life, But First Could You Drive Me And Cheryl to the Mall," says that electronic surveillance is neither good nor bad, but parents should be aware of why they want to have electronics keeping tabs on their kids. If the goal is to teach safe driving skills and to help a teen gain experience in the first year of driving, there is a benefit in using these tracking devices. However, he cautions, if the parents don't trust a teen and use the devices to circumscribe autonomy, they run the risk of creating even more emotional distance between themselves and their child.

How Using The Device Can Work -- For Both Parent And Teen

"If you use the tracking devices as a driver training tool, and you share safe driving discussions with the teen, and if the teen is actually looking at the data from the device with the parent, and if the parent says 'I want you to be a safer driver,' I think that's a good thing," says Wolf. "If the parent doesn't trust the teen, [and is] using the device just to see where the kids are going -- what is different about that than putting a chip inside the kid to monitor where the kid goes?"

Massachusetts family therapist Carleton Kendrick, who co-wrote the book "Take Out Your Nose Ring, Honey, We Are Going to Grandma's," tells Disney's Family.com website that attempts to spy on kids with tracking devices in cars will increase rebellion. He also told the site that parents resort to tracking devices because they are frightened of a changing world. Kendrick suggests treating teens with the same respect as an adult friend, which means being honest and communicating.

Michael Thompson, co-author of "The Pressured Child: Helping Your Child Find Success in School and Life," says the two biggest issues today in parent-teen relationships are the increasing autonomy teens have today, and how to deal with the increasing anxiety that parents have about their children's safety. Other experts suggest that setting boundaries such as using tracking devices on some trips but not every time the child leaves the house are a way of balancing between too much and too little control.

"Teens are absolutely going to take chances when they think that they will be okay with taking chances," Wolf says. "A better way of monitoring teens is to have as much back-and-forth communication as possible from when the child is little."

Ultimately, different parents have differing opinions about how to raise their children -- just as they always have. The kids, on the other hand, are more unified in their opposition to monitoring.

"I was once on a panel that was set up by an insurance company to ask kids what they thought of being monitored this way," says Wolf. "The kids were all smart and articulate, and they were all unwaivering in being against any monitoring device in their cars. Of course that doesn't mean they are bad devices, but that good kids, bad kids, and in-between kids universally were against the devices."


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  • 89 Comments
      caparadiso
      • 8 Days Ago
      I think every baby born should have a location chip installed somewhere in their bodys like lojack. If the kid goes missing the police should be able to activate the chip and find the kid. We put lojack to find our cars and chips in our pets for God's sake. What is more important, a car thats probably insured anyway, your stupid dog or cat or your CHILD? If the kid wants to have the chip removed when they are 18, fine. It would not be a bad idea if it could transmit to the parents computer as to their whereabouts on a regular basis especially for teenagers. The kid would not even have to know about it until they are 18. I wish I could invent one.
      • 8 Days Ago
      I'm a single parent and my daughter's car sometimes breaks down on her way home from her job. On top of that her cell phone will cease to be charged so if she is late getting home and I don't hear from her, I have had to hit the streets looking for her, so a tracking device of where her car is located would be great for this ************.
      • 8 Days Ago
      People have accident's at all ages, but if a parent takes the time to teach a child on how to be a responsible driver then they will have the knowledge to help them maybe avoid an ************** up to the parent or parents to do this not some gizmo that the parent can keep tabs on them with. What should be done is to let them watch videos from high speed chases, wreck scenes and visit an E.R. or morgue, so they can see first hand of what stupidity can do. People are always in a hurry to go nowhere. Yes, I do have a teenager that is driving but she knows that she can lose her life or vehicle by doing something stupid. Plus it helps having Law ******************** her.
      JUJU
      • 8 Days Ago
      My car, my insurance, then I will track anyone and everyone who drives it, I don't care if they are 16 or 30.
      • 8 Days Ago
      My view's this: "I trust you. And I want to trust you. For now, you have a reasonable amount of trust from me. But if you ever break that trust, that device is going into your car, and I will be monitoring you until I feel that I can trust you again." Let kids know that you do trust them, and give them a chance to fulfill that trust; but make it very, very clear what the consequences are going to be if they break that trust.
      bob
      • 8 Days Ago
      my son steals cars to help out here at home.i make him wear an ankle bracelet and i have one of these devices for his personal car.but when he steals a car hes free to do whatever he wants.hell it aint my car.
      AlfredJSenior
      • 8 Days Ago
      Getting to the truth with an adolescent seems a bit like getting to the truth with the Soviets about their nuclear weapons activities during the "cold war." Both the Soviets and adolescents tend(ed) to "fudge" a lot on any agreed to restrictions. As it turned out the most effective approach with the Soviets came down to "trust but verify." Sounds like this inepensive electronic tool is a fairly simple "verification device." Responsible and loving parents would be wise to verify that the trust they have invested in their driving teen's capacity for self discipline hasn't been dangerously misplaced. Additionally if the teen driver knows the device is in the system it might help during those moments when self discipline tends to fade in the face of real excitement, total freedom and raging hormones.
      HI Q-TIP!!!
      • 8 Days Ago
      As a 17 year old who bought his own car (used challenger 07) AND pay for insurance, finding one of these bad boys hurt. I think that i am responsible enough to have some sort of privacy, considering i worked at least 2 jobs per sumer since i was 15 as well as an all year electronics repair and upgrade business, not counting the fact that my mom gets in about one accident a year and has been letting me drive since 14, not a scratch on my part. I guess they forgot that i've made about 20 k over 4 years repairing and building computers. i know my parents constantly file through my room because yes, they provide the room. but i sincerely CAN NOT trust my parents if they really think that little of me. driving tests seriously should be about MATURITY and SKILL, not age. just the wolf's side of the story, for those who bothered to listen.
      • 8 Days Ago
      If you don't trust your kid to go where they're supposed to go, why did you get them a car in the first place? Owning a car is a privilege not a right. Come on guys, I'm only 17 and I've figured that much out.
      • 8 Days Ago
      Had one from skypatrol in my teens car for almost three years, best thing I ever did.
      • 8 Days Ago
      " He also told the site that parents resort to tracking devices because they are frightened of a changing world. Kendrick suggests treating teens with the same respect as an adult friend, which means being honest and communicating." Tracking my kid has nothing to do with being afraid of a changing world. He is inexperienced and has the judgement of a juvenile. It would be inexcusable as a parent to not know where my clildren are. Technology has finally caught up with parenting responsibility. You turn your kid lose on the road with a 4000 pound projectile you should be dang sure he is propelling it responsibly. Teen brains aren't wired for long term thinking. If he drives at all, it will be with controls. Otherwise he can take the shoe-leather express. The only way I know he is learning responsibility is for him to show me.
      • 8 Days Ago
      if you feel compelled to add one of these devices into your viechle . it probally is a good idea not to let the teenager drive in the first place . if you cant trust him or her to be responceable on their own please dont put them behind the wheel of a car . your parenting at that point has failed . and you should not let the rest of us be indanger because you are unable to teach your kids right from wrong and they have no accountability or responceability . our job to the younger generations is to point them in the right direction . from birth . let them make mistakes sometimes its the only way we learn. some of us died then and god forbid but it will happen in the generations to come . we should not out live our kids . but we should not enslave them either .
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