Teen Tracking Devices Make Them Better Drivers

There are in-car gadgets, smartphone apps, and even automaker software to help monitor young drivers

Many parents feel squeamish about tracking their teen drivers with technology. It seems invasive, intrusive, and like you don't trust them.

But a study by the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety shows that teens whom know they're being tracked behave better behind the wheel.

And given that the first year of driving really should be considered more of a training period than a full-blown, no-restrictions free pass to drive, parents should consider using whatever tools they have at their discretion.

While handing over the car keys can turn any well functioning parent into a stressed-out mess, these devices are another tool to help the learning process continue even after your teen is driving on his or her own. Experts are not fond of using the devices on the sly. Why? Because the research shows that a teen will practice better driving habits if they know they are being watched. And they won't feel betrayed if they are suddenly surprised to learn you've been tracking them with a GPS.

Here are a just a few to consider:

Comes with the car

Ford's MyKey:

The primary purpose of Ford's MyKey system is to act like an advanced seat-belt reminder. It also does a bunch of other things. But if it only serves the purpose of forcing to teens buckle up, it's creator will consider it a victory.

Andy Sarkisian, manager of Ford's Safety Planning and Strategy, came up with the idea after one of his teen daughters survived two serious car crashes – including one rollover crash – because she was belted in.

How does it work? The system blocks out the radio until the front passengers have all clicked in. It also limits how loud a radio can play, maxing out at 60% of full volume, which is plenty loud.

MyKey also can be set to max out the top speed at 80 mph, and to set alerts when the driver goes above 45 mph, 55 mph, and 65 mph.

It comes basic on all Ford models. One key can be programmed with the technology, and the other master key can turn it off.


Later this year, the 2012 Hyundai Sonata will come with BlueLink, a telematics system that can be used to help parents monitor teen drivers. The "GeoFence" will alert owners when a car has been driven outside of a predetermined area, which will help if you want your teen to stay close to home. And it will you allow to set speed limits and curfews on the car.

The system will come standard on all 2012 Hyundai Sonata sedans, which means it will be available to everyone.

Spy gadgets to add on

There are a couple of ways you can track teen drivers without them knowing. Or you can track them and let them know you're watching, which may actually offer better results because your teen will practice their best driving behaviors knowing someone is watching over their shoulder.

One such technology is the MotoSafety Teen Driving Coach. The device is about the size of an iPod Nano, except thicker. It plugs into the on-board diagnostics (OBD II) port in the car, which is located somewhere three to five feet from the driver. It can be hard to find, so you may need a technician at the retailer or your garage to help you.

For $150 for the device and a $20 monthly subscription fee, the device uses GPS to track where your teen has gone. It gives your child a monthly grade, displaying the number of speeding, harsh braking and rapid acceleration incidents that contributed to a low grade. And it shows how the score has changed over time.

Youth Driving Safe offers a set of similar devices, varying in sizes, for a $298 initial cost and a $17.99 a month subscription. The $99 CarChip Pro also tracks teen drivers, but it doesn't come with a GPS option, so you won't know where you child has gone.

If you don't want to go through the hassle of finding the OBD port, you can pay a little extra to get wireless devices. The Spark Nano 2.0 Real-Time tracker goes for between $199 and $299, and then a whopping $209 to $399 in service costs, depending on the plan you chose. But it can be hidden in the glove-box, and performs the same way as other GPS tracking devices.

There are plenty of other devices available, but each plan differs. Some claim to offer continuous tracking, but only record the car's location and speed every few minutes.

Smart phone apps

There are plenty of smart phone apps that promise to block text messaging and cellphone calls for your teen driver, or even for yourself.

AOL Autos tested out the StateFarm Driver Feedback app for the iPhone. The free program records your speed, acceleration, braking and location, and at the end of the ride gives the driver a score. It also provides feedback on problem areas – the first time through, it said we had a tendency to take turns too quickly. Using that feedback, we slowed down and got a better score the second time around.

Apps are helpful in the teaching process, because sometimes teens take criticism better from outside sources than from their parents. Sad but true. Seeing their driving performance criticized on an app may go down easier than from a parent. Setting up the StateFarm Driver Feedback app to record a drive is useful, but be aware that the program needs to run continuously throughout the drive, and it drains cellphone battery. Thus, you'll want to keep the phone plugged in while it is working.

When searching for driver-monitoring apps, be aware that many apps offered are merely driving logs. Those are useful to help your teen record their training hours behind the wheel, but don't actually do anything on their own.

Other apps to consider include ones that block texting while driving. Many of those also need to be physically turned on before driving, and can drain the phone's battery quickly using GPS technology to determine if someone is in a car. But T-Mobile's DriveSmart detects when a phone is quickly switching between cell-towers, and activates then.

Bottom line: Thanks to today's technology, parents don't have to be completely ignorant of how their teens drive when they are not around. And forcing your teen to practice good driving skills even when you're not present will make them better drivers in the long run.

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