An Angel Watching Over Your Kids

Those who have driving-age children must fervently wish that a guardian angel would keep watch over their children. With over 3,500 teen driving deaths per year in the United States, the issue of keeping your children safe when they are in the car has to be top-of-mind. Inexperience, distraction, drinking and drugs are all teen-related problems that can lead to tragic consequences. In response, parents, government officials, health and safety advocates and insurance companies have focused on finding ways to make the road a safer place for teens.

The effort to protect teens is moving forward on several fronts. These days a number of states have instituted graduated licensing programs that ease teens into the driving swing of things before turning them loose on their own and then accompanied by passengers. New Age driver’s training takes them beyond simple Rules of the Road quizzes to a better understanding of the dangers of distractions from cell phone use, texting, music and friends in the car. And one of the most promising new ways of protecting teens comes like an angel from the heavens. But rather than a product of divine intervention, it is a product of technical ingenuity. 

Now, several companies offer teen-behavior tracking systems based on Global Positioning System (GPS) that can keep an eye on your teens even if they are across the country. Progressive, AIG, Safeco and Allstate are just four of several insurance companies that offer such tracking and monitoring systems. According to Hussein Enan, CEO of online insurance comparison site InsWeb, many insurance companies offer insurance rate discounts for parents who take advantage of the GPS tracking programs. Teensurance, one of the leaders in the field, offers an insight into what the programs typically offer.

“The Teensurance program provides parents with a suite of tools to actively monitor and manage their teenager’s driving,” said Safeco executive Tim Haugaard, who is director of product management for the company’s Teensurance. “With its real-time tracking, speed alerts and curfew notifications sent via text message or e-mail, parents can identify and correct their teenager’s driving behavior before an accident occurs.”

“Underwriting teen drivers has always been a complicated situation for insurance companies,” Enan said. “They want to provide excellent service to parents, but teen drivers present a high degree of risk. GPS tracking services provide an easy and effective way to reduce the likelihood of risky driving behavior -- it’s win-win.”

In addition to the systems offered by various insurance companies, several GPS tracking systems with different capabilities are offered by vehicle manufacturers and the auto aftermarket. Some of these systems do not include real-time monitoring but instead record driving data on a removable flash or hard drive. While these devices have the potential disadvantage of not providing real-time information about a teen’s whereabouts, the monitoring functions they do offer -- items like where the teen was and how fast he or she got there -- are still helpful in promoting good behavior. One plus is they generally do not require a monthly fee. The only investment is the cost to buy and install the tracking unit.

While GPS is a technology with a proven track record, the ultimate impact it can have on teen driving safety is still being explored. But one thing is clear: With millions of Americans nationwide focused on helping teenagers drive more safely, GPS tracking services will play a significant role.