U of M device texts parents when teen drivers misbehave

Researchers at the University of Minnesota have been working for 10 years to develop what's called the Teen Driver Support System (TDSS), a smartphone-based application that provides "real-time, in-vehicle feedback to teens about their risky behaviors—and reports those behaviors to parents via text message if teens don't heed the system's warnings."

The device is mounted on the vehicle's dashboard, and provides warnings the driver can see and hear about speeding, stop sign violations, upcoming dangers, unauthorized passengers, and perhaps most salient to teens – it prevents them from using their phones to text or make calls (except 911.)

In the event of an infraction, a text is sent to parents and the app is connected to a website that summarizes the driving events and behaviors and archives that data for future review.

For example, the driver can see the screen change to yellow when the vehicle hits two miles over the speed limit, and then to bright red at 7 miles over the limit. If the driver doesn't slow down, off goes a text message to a parent.

Janet Creaser, is the research fellow who spearheaded the project, explained that their sole mission is to save lives and make the roads safer for the least experienced drivers out there. After all, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of teen fatalities.

"We're trying to help keep them safe while learning how to drive and gain that experience," she said.

To test the app, the U recently finished a large research project with 300 newly-licensed teen drivers around the state. One-third were tracked as a control group with the device providing no feedback to the driver. One-third got the device with in-vehicle interaction only. One-third had the parent-text alert built in. Who performed the best? Those who had to answer to mom and dad.

"They can go home, have a conversation with their teenager about safe driving and not just implement consequences, but really try to help them to learn how to drive more safely," Creaser added.

The U insists the software is in high demand and will likely hit the open market in the coming months.

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