It's no secret that newly minted young drivers are inexperienced risk-takers.
Their inexperience comes at a price, both in accidents and insurance rates. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), teens are four times more likely than adult drivers to get in an accident, and adding a teen to your policy can double or even triple your car insurance rates. (See "What a teenager does to your insurance rates.")
Technology can help with both.
It's now possible to attach an electronic leash to a teen's vehicle, letting a worried parent ride shotgun without being in the car. Some devices use video, others GPS. Some record data for later review, and some simply prevent the teen from misbehaving on the road. And some can even lower your car insurance premium. (See "What young drivers need to know.")
A 2009 study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) found monitoring devices helped teens become better drivers.
"The group that saw the most improvement heard an alert," says Anne McCartt, IIHS senior vice president for research. "If they corrected their behavior within 20 seconds, violations would not be reported to their parents. This combined with a biweekly e-mail report to the parents was the most effective combination."
Glen Pyrtle of Dallas has monitored his daughter, Jennilee, since she first got her license. Their tracker sends him alerts when the car goes more than 73 mph or leaves the approved driving area that Glen has established. The system gives him peace of mind, and he is convinced that it has made Jennilee a better driver.
"She never had a chance to develop a lead foot because she knows her speed is monitored," Pyrtle says.
What follows is a sampling of the systems and technologies available.
Track them with satellites
GPS-based tracking systems can record where your teen drives and his or her behavior along the way.
Safeco's Teensurance program can result in a 15 percent discount on car insurance rates. The Safety Beacon GPS unit is professionally installed and allows parents to instantly locate the car, set speed reminders, set up safe driving zones (called geo-fences), and send arrival/departure notifications. Alerts and notifications can be sent to a parent's e-mail address. The system costs $200 upfront with a $19.99 monthly fee.
The car-dealer-installed SkyLink Protect allows parents to set up geo-fences and speed alerts, and it can function as a vehicle locator if your car is stolen. It also allows a parent to unlock the door remotely if the keys are locked in the vehicle.
Other GPS-based tracking systems gather and report information through a cellphone.
Get them on video
When the DriveCam video feedback system senses risky driving, it records a few seconds of what the driver is doing and seeing. The footage is sent to DriveCam, where it is analyzed by a safety professional. Once a week, parents are sent a report that includes the footage and advice on how to improve.
It is one of the most effective monitoring systems, according to University of Iowa research, and one of the more expensive -- unless you are an American Family Insurance customer.
DriveCam costs $500 installed and an additional $30 per month for monitoring, but it is free if you are insured with American Family. American Family believes the system produces safer drivers, says spokesperson Steve Witmer.
American Family says it does not use the data to set or adjust rates, and teens using the DriveCam system do not receive a policy discount. (See "Do you need a dash cam?")
Record the data for later review
Usage-based programs are becoming common among insurance companies, with substantial discounts available to drivers who install a monitoring device and demonstrate a pattern of low-risk driving.
Safeco's Teen Safety Rewards program is aimed squarely at teen drivers. Safeco's device plugs into the car's OBD-II diagnostics port, recording and transmitting data on speed, acceleration, braking and nighttime driving. A weekly report is e-mailed to the parent and teen, with the option to see more detail online. While the discount varies by state, most teens receive a 15 percent break on their premiums.
Other programs aren't necessarily aimed at teens. The Progressive Snapshot plug-in collects and transmits data similar to that of the Safeco program, with a discount of up to 30 percent. (See "Progressive's Snapshot discount: What's the catch?") State Farm's In-Drive program uses Hughes Telematics technology and promises the possibility of even greater discounts, as much as 50 percent. (See "State Farm's In-Drive discount: What's the catch?") Programs are also available through Travelers and Allstate.
A number of OBD-II plug-ins are available if your insurer doesn't offer one.
The CarChip Pro records data and allows parents to set thresholds for speed, acceleration and braking. If these thresholds are exceeded, a beeping sound alerts the driver. At $119, it is one of the more cost-effective options.
Set limits ahead of time
Carmakers are starting to put technology in their vehicles that allows parents to monitor or even control what their teens can do at the wheel.
With Ford's MyKey system, parents can program the teen's key to limit the top speed of the vehicle to 80 mph and prevent him from disabling stability control and other safety systems. It can limit audio volume and chime an alert at 45 mph, 55 mph and 65 mph. A persistent seat belt chime ensures teens buckle up. It can block incoming phone and text messages, too.
Hyundai's Blue Link technology lets parents set geo-fences, top speed limits and curfews on the vehicle. E-mail alerts are sent when any limit is exceeded.
Get the whole village involved
A few state governments have notification programs designed to improve teen driving.
The New York State Department of Motor Vehicles runs the Teen Electronic Event Notification Service (TEENS). This program notifies parents when traffic violations, accidents or suspensions appear on a teen's record. Florida is considering a similar proposal.
The Michigan Sheriffs' Association runs the Sheriffs Telling Our Parents and Promoting Educated Drivers (STOPPED) program. When police pull over a vehicle with a STOPPED sticker on the windshield, parents are notified, regardless of whether a ticket is issued.
Shut down their cellphones
You might get more functionality by buying one of dozens of smartphone apps.
The iGuardianTeen app, for example, disables texting and calls. A report is sent to parents after every driving session, and includes information about top speeds, duration of the trip and any excessive G-force events triggered by sudden braking or swerving. The program alerts parents if the app is shut down. It is only available for Android phones and costs $4.99.
These solutions don't require electronics, but they also don't return as much data.
Parents can buy a "How's My Teen Driving?" bumper sticker that routes calls to a reporting center, which e-mails the parents. Tell The Parents is $31.95 a year. Or you could simply print a "How's My Driving?" bumper sticker of your own with a phone number on it, if you're prepared to deal with a crank call or two.
You can hire someone to follow your teen. Really, you can. StreetEyes says its operators will follow at a discreet distance, filming the car, capturing its speed and tracking it by GPS, then report back to you, at a cost of $30 for a 20-minute session.
Lastly, there is the old standby familiar to any driver who came of age in the pre-cellphone era: Check the odometer and write it down.