Car Insurers' Devices Track Teen Drivers
Wednesday, October 10, 2007; 4:42 PM
CHICAGO -- When 17-year-old Anna Kinderman takes a turn too fast in her parents' sedan or jams the brakes too hard, she apologizes aloud even when no one else is in the car. "Sorry, Dad," she says, looking up at the camera mounted on the rear-view mirror.
Mom and Dad will see the incident on video soon enough, after all.
Several U.S. auto insurers have begun offering in-car cameras or global positioning equipment to help parents monitor their teenagers' driving behavior, hoping to reduce the alarming number of crashes involving young new motorists.
Industry experts say it's too soon to gauge the effectiveness of programs like American Family Insurance Co.'s Teen Safe Driver, used by the Kindermans in Madison, Wis. But the case for needing to improve highway safety for teens is compelling.
Traffic accidents are by far the No. 1 killer of U.S. teenagers, with a fatality rate four times higher than drivers aged 25-69. A total of 5,288 teens died in traffic accidents in 2005, and more than 7,000 were driving cars involved in fatal accidents.
Insurance companies can benefit significantly if the initiatives catch on, according to Craig Weber, senior insurance analyst with research and consulting firm Celent.
"It's a unique opportunity for them to help change behavior, which will help them drive down rates, which will make customers happy," said Weber. Even if rates don't drop, he added, "it's a huge win in building customer loyalty and generating positive PR."
One of the programs _ Safeco Corp.'s Teensurance _ just announced premium discounts of up to 15 percent for its customers who participate. Others are likely to follow suit.
Under Teen Safe Driver, a camera records audio and video images of both the road and the driver when motion sensors detect swerving, hard braking, sudden acceleration or a collision. The footage goes to an analysis center where it is graded for riskiness and sent on to parents with comments and coaching tips.
Teen drivers have mixed feelings about the technology; one in 20 even cover the camera after it is first installed, according to program officials.
"It's great that you can see what you did wrong," said Anna. "But it kind of feels like a parent is in your space, especially when you get yelled at if you do something wrong."
She has been part of a pilot program at her high school for the last year. She usually sits down with her father, a police officer, to review the incidents _ and explain why she was driving with a cell phone to her ear.