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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Bad Teen Drivers Caught Behind the Wheel

Drivecam Camera Records Teen Behavior for Parents to See and Hear

Ashlyee Smolha had an accident just a few weeks after getting her driver's license. Now, watching the 16-year-old's every move behind the wheel, is a camera mounted just below the rearview mirror.

"In the beginning I thought, this is an invasion of privacy," the high school junior said. "I totally cried when I was told I had to have it."

American Family Insurance supplied the camera, and gives Ashlyee's mom, Dorenda Wooldridge, a 10 percent break on insurance for putting it in the car. "I love it," Wooldridge said. "It is the best invention ever."

Developed by Drivecam, the camera is always rolling, but it only records events that seem unusual or out-of-character. It records clips of video, 10 seconds before and 10 seconds after the event, and presents them online, at a secure site, for Smolha's parents to view.

In her first week, Smolha recorded 17 events, prompting a handful parent-to-daughter, driver-education conversations.

Daniel V. McGehee, director of the human factors and vehicle safety research program at the University of Iowa's Public Policy Center, said the technology is only as good as the family that uses it. "That is kind of the limitation of these styles of devices," he said, "the parents have to parent."

Without that final step of mentoring he videotaping, the parent notification of events and weekly status report sent via e-mail are worthless. "It starts a dialogue," McGehee said.

Although parents and teenagers often talk about sex, drugs and alcohol, they do not discuss the number-one killer of teenagers. "The number one cause of death for teenagers is a car, and it is not only as a driver, but as a passenger," he said. "But they don't talk car crashes, and that's what kills them."

The initial study of the cameras, undertaken by the university, found a 72 percent to 90 percent decrease in unsafe teenage-driving events while they are in use.

The John Geer Agency American Family Insurance, 2505 Foresight Circle, Unit B, is enjoying a 50 percent success rate in offering the cameras to parents.

"We offer it to anybody that is signing up a new driver, and a lot of parents don't want to do it, which is very surprising," said Linda Geer, office manager. "What the parents have done, they use it as leverage. They say, 'OK, you don't have to have it now, but if you get a ticket or an accident, you are going to have it in the car.' But I think they are missing the boat. It is really going to save lives."

According to Drivecam, the camera costs nothing, and the weekly e-mail notices are free and completely confidential.

After a week and a half of living with the camera, Smolha is done pouting.

"I’m kind of like, 'It's there, and I know it's there,'" she said. "I don’t make a big deal out of it anymore."

Smolha admits it has made her a better driver, despite her friends still "freaking out" over it. And because the camera not only sees, but can listen, there is at least one thing she would do differently if the recorder was not in the car.

"My music would be louder," she said.

Along with motor vehicle safety, driver education helps ensure the safety of Americans. Whether you're getting your Commercial Drivers License, your Learner's Permit, or your Motorcycle License, America's Driver's License Headquarters is

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