Support system tracks teens’ driving behavior

The automotive technology cautions drivers against unsafe conduct on the road.

Jeannine Aquino

Although some beginning drivers view a parent’s advice on driving etiquette as unwelcome and unnecessary, a parent’s guidance might be integral in reducing the risk of a car accident, according to the Minnesota Department of Public Health.

Now, with the Teen Driver Support System, a parent can monitor a teen’s driving without sitting in the passenger seat.

Developed by a three-person University team, the support system prototype promises to monitor and correct a new driver’s unsafe driving behavior by using a combination of existing driving technologies.

The Teen Driver Support System uses a Global Positioning System and a speed limit road map to determine a car’s position and its respective driving speed. If the system determines the driver is driving too fast, an automated voice sounds in the car to tell the driver he or she is exceeding the speed limit. If the driver ignores the warning, a text message or e-mail is sent to inform the parent of his or her child’s risky driving habits. The system keeps a log of this behavior, which a parent can view at his or her leisure.

“It allows the parents to be in the car even when they’re not (physically) there,” said Shawn Brovold, a master’s student in mechanical engineering who helped develop the system.

In addition to monitoring a driver’s speed, the system also will be able to monitor whether a driver is accelerating or changing lanes too quickly. It also will provide a warning if the driver does not slow when approaching curves.

The system also is capable of determining the correct speed that should be maintained in certain weather conditions. Using weather and road condition information gleaned from the Minnesota Department of Transportation, the system will let the driver know whether he or she is speeding, regardless of whether the driver is within a road’s speed limit.

Max Donath, the director of the University Intelligent Transportation Systems Institute, and Steve Simon, a clinical professor at the Law School, came up with the idea for the system three years ago.

Simon, who is interested in researching drunken driving and traffic safety, said car crashes are the No. 1 cause of death for people younger than 20. Teen drivers are vastly overrepresented in crash statistics, he said, and he hopes the system the team is developing will help reduce that risk.

“The technology is designed to help the teen driver drive safer, to avoid crashes and if they are involved in a crash, to reduce the severity,” Simon said.

Simon said they also are working on integrating a commercially available alcohol ignition interlock, which is essentially a breathalyzer that would prevent the car from starting if alcohol is present in a driver’s breath.

Brovold said the next step will be testing the technology on new drivers to see if it does curb bad driving behavior.

Spencer Hartberg, an electrical engineering student, said he does not think the teen driving system is a good idea, because it generates mistrust between teens and their parents.

Instead of using the system immediately when the teen turns 16, he said, it might be better to use it as an alternative to getting one’s license revoked.

Hartberg said this technology might help new drivers follow the rules but it doesn’t give them the freedom to make their own decisions and learn from the experience.