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Are Parental Monitoring Devices For Teen Drivers A Good Idea?


Your teen driver is now behind the wheel. Now the real worries begin. Parents can take some of the anxiety out of this sometimes nerve-wracking experience by making use of parental monitoring devices for teen drivers.

GPS-based apps available to parents to monitor teen driving behavior range from smartphone apps to onboard devices that either plug into the car’s onboard diagnostic computer or are hard-wired to the car by a professional.

Ford MyKey

Proliferation of monitoring devices, systems

In the past few years, insurance companies including Travelers, Progressive and others have offered premium discounts to drivers who agree to install a monitoring device in their cars that tracks driving activity, including speeding or sudden braking. Some parents faced a tough sell with their teen driver over being monitored this way, but those teens that paid at least some portion of their car insurance premium might have been won over by the potential premium discount – as long as they drove safely, got no citations or had no accidents.

AAA has the OnBoard Teen Safe Driver Program.

According to a USA Today story, AT&T is developing Driving Safety, a cloud-based plug-in device that will monitor driving behavior including speeding, hard braking and red-light running, remotely provides real-time vehicle diagnostics information, and allows parents to restrict cellphone use.

Sprint and Verizon have phone-based family locator services.

Ford added parental blocking to the MyKey in the 2012 Ford Explorer equipped with SYNC and MyFordTouch. This gives parents the ability to block all incoming texts and calls while their teens are driving.

OnStar Family Link

OnStar’s Family Link option has a GPS-based Location Alert that tells parents where their teen is. Parents can set the parameters for how often they receive updates via text or email.

Hyundai offers Blue Link telematics system, and Mercedes-Benz has the mbrace2 telematics system (standard on most models), both of which allows geo-fences, have speed alerts and a curfew minder.

Parental monitoring - a good idea or not?

A 2009 survey by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) of teen drivers in the Washington, D.C. area who drove vehicles equipped with monitoring devices actually modified their driving behavior. They became more responsible and safer drivers, taking fewer risks than teens that were not being monitored.

Teens are extremely protective of their privacy with respect to use of social media. To avoid uproar over teens discovering parental monitoring of their behavior behind the wheel after the fact, most safety and privacy experts recommend having discussions about this aspect of teen driving beforehand.

Even if teens get behind the idea, the conversation that may ensue when parental monitoring shows the teen driver continually speeding or tracking showed that teens were in areas other than they said they’d be could get a little uncomfortable.

On the other hand, discussing responsible use of a vehicle and safe driving, as well as parents monitoring of the teen’s driving behavior could become a part of the driving contract parents insist their teens sign. This way, everything is spelled out. Teens know what is expected of them in terms of family rules regarding all aspects of driving, and the consequences for failing to abide by the rules.

Couched in the overall intent to have the teen become a safer driver, perhaps the use of monitoring devices by parents wouldn’t be as distasteful. Still, while monitoring devices can be considered an extension of the parents’ presence in the car, safety experts say that nothing takes the place of ongoing parental involvement.

MORE: See Winter Driving Safety Tips For Teens and How Long Should Parents Ride With Teen Drivers?

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