Keeping Tabs on Teen Drivers

Surveillance devices alert parents of speeding, texting teenagers.

ByABC News
January 8, 2009, 12:15 AM

May 20, 2008— -- Teenagers beware: Big brother is watching -– and so are mom and dad.

A high-tech surveillance system that allows parents to keep tabs on their teen drivers becomes more widely available starting later this week. If teenagers are driving too fast, parents will get an instant text message. If they break the driving curfew that parents have set on the car, an alert sent to mom and dad will make them the first to know.

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"Most teenagers want to think about their friends, they're thinking about school, they're thinking about the dance, their football game, their cell phone; and driving is not something they think about," said Jim Havens, vice president of consumer solutions at Safeco Insurance.

"What we've found is that when parents talk to the teens and the teens know the program, they are thinking about driving when they are behind the wheel and they are not thinking about all those other things as much," he said.

Safeco started offering GPS tools to its customers last year and is now making them available to all families for about $15 a month.

The program is the latest in an ever-expanding effort to watch teens behind the wheel without sitting beside them in the passenger's seat. Other insurance companies, like AIG Auto Insurance and American Family Insurance Co., give parents glimpses into teenagers' cars, whether through GPS systems or cameras attached to the rear-view mirror. The devices can record audio and video footage when motion sensors pick up on erratic driving, or document risky moments so parents and teenagers can later review what happened.

Still, at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, senior vice president for research Anne McCartt acknowledged that parents are "not lining up to make use of these devices."

"We do know that some parents may be reluctant to make use of this device, that teens may believe they are invasions of their privacy or intrusive; cost may be a factor," she said.