Tracking improves teens' driving but raises questions of trust

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When Brookfield (Wis.) Central High School student Chloe Olier started driving earlier this summer, her parents Dany and Virginie installed a DriveCam, a monitoring device that records video whenever she makes driving mistakes and emails her missteps to her parents, who review the footage online with her.

She wasn't pleased.

"I felt violated, because it was going to be recording me," the 16-year-old said.

But Chloe Olier now says she'd recommend it to her friends because it has made her a better driver. The machine, obtained for free from the family's auto insurer, American Family Insurance, recorded her 23 times the first week. Now, she only makes sporadic mistakes.

"It's nice because it tells me what I'm doing wrong so I don't do it anymore," she said.

Research shows that electronic monitoring devices can reduce risky driving behavior by teenagers, and a growing number of insurance companies and auto manufacturers are offering new products, but they are slow to catch on.

According to American Family Insurance, 15,000 families have used the DriveCam in 19 states since it launched in 2007. The company has recorded 65 percent to 70 percent reductions among participants in distractions, tailgating, poor scanning, intentionally unsafe driving and speeding.

A 2009 study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety showed that a device called Tiwi, which also reports unsafe driving acts, significantly reduced risky driving behavior. The best results came when teenagers had a chance to modify their behavior before the device sent alerts to parents.

"Parents should consider using the devices, because our research shows they can be effective," said Russ Rader, a spokesman for the institute, who said the devices have often been a hard sell to parents. "The monitoring is a way for a parent to be a virtual passenger supervising their teen when they're not physically in the passenger seat."

A recent State Farm survey identified what it called a dangerous trust gap between parents and children. While around 70 percent of parents in the survey thought their teenagers were "almost always" obeying graduated licensing restrictions, as few as 43 percent of teenagers said they almost always followed them.

Jeff Pierson, a driving instructor in Milwaukee who owns Safety First Driving School, thought his teenage son was a great driver. Then, one day, he trailed him as he drove with friends.

"I tell parents: Two weeks after they've got their license and they know friends are going to be with them, follow them. I was so shocked. As soon as two girls were on the ride, he burned rubber," Mr. Pierson said. "When you get three to four kids in a car, it's a party. It's just play time."

While monitoring devices aren't popular, more insurance companies are offering a greater array of products since the devices emerged around seven years ago, said Loretta Worters, a spokeswoman for the Insurance Information Institute. For example, Progressive has a black box that records speeds and braking times, and 21st Century Auto Insurance offers a GPS system that lets parents set location boundaries, curfews and speed limits.

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