Newest Source of Teen Ire: Webcams in Their Cars

In an effort to reduce teen car crashes, Maryland parents are recording their kids driving. A look at what happens when kids stop driving and start text messaging.Produced by Gaby Bruna/washingtonpost.comFootage by: DriveCam.
By Matt Zapotosky
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 24, 2008

Ken Richardson does not have to ride in his 17-year-old daughter's Ford Escort to know when she takes a turn too fast.

The camera system installed in her car will e-mail him about it.

"She's at that age where she's a little rebellious," said Richardson, 54. "And I'm at the age where I'm not gonna take any crap."

The Richardsons are among more than 100 families in Southern Maryland enrolled in a state-sponsored study to install camera systems that record the moments before and after an unusual driving maneuver, such as sudden braking or a too-sharp turn. State officials say the cameras could decrease the number of teen drivers killed in crashes.

Some of the teenagers have other thoughts on the matter.

"I feel like I'm being babysat, like I'm being watched constantly," said Stacie Richardson, Ken Richardson's daughter. "It drives me nuts."

The cameras are among the latest tools in the struggle to reduce teen car crashes, a problem that has been particularly vexing in Maryland. Last year, crashes involving drivers ages 16 to 20 killed 112 people in the state. Such accidents, including one this week in Montgomery County, are often caused not by alcohol or overt recklessness but by simple driver inexperience. The problem has persisted despite efforts by lawmakers to restrict teen driving privileges.

"Really, the single most dangerous thing we let our children do is drive a car," said Daniel McGehee, director of the human factors and vehicle safety research program at the University of Iowa. "It's frustrating for those of us who study crashes in general."

Until recently, the in-car monitoring systems being installed in Southern Maryland were used primarily by commercial companies interesting in monitoring their drivers. In the battle against driver inexperience, they are joined by other devices that keep a detailed log of a driver's speed or use GPS technology to constantly track the driver's position, said Bill Carpenter, an executive with DriveCam, the San Diego company that makes the cameras.

The camera, mounted on the front windshield, captures footage of what is happening outside as well as in the vehicle. It saves about 20 seconds of that footage only when its sensors are triggered by excessive G-forces. Those forces tend to accompany unusual driving maneuvers such as sudden braking or swerving.

Saved footage is transmitted back to DriveCam via a cellular network. DriveCam experts review the videos, add tips for the young drivers and post them to a Web site where parents can see them a day or so later. Parents receive an e-mail alert when the videos are posted.

The camera can capture anything going on in the car, but the company uploads only footage that involves unsafe driving. "If an event is captured that is embarrassing to the teen . . . then we're not going to return it to the family," Carpenter said.

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