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Teen Drivers Have Virtual Parent in Car

Oct 10, 2007

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 such as 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 ages 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, the 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 Mr. 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 customers who participate. Others are likely to follow suit.

Teen drivers have mixed feelings about the technology; one in 20 cover the camera after it is 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 past 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.

Her mom, Bette Kinderman, views the system as a great tool for parents. "I'd rather be able to talk to her about an issue before there's an accident," she said.

Though the early data is limited, Madison-based American Family says teen drivers participating in the program have had significantly fewer crashes and injury accidents than would have been expected based on national driving statistics. It also says driving risk scores measured in the recordings analyzed drop an average 80 percent during the first 16 weeks.

Originally published by Associated Press.

(c) 2007 Augusta Chronicle, The. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.

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