Teen Driver Support System helps reduce risky driving behavior

teen driverAlthough teen drivers make up a small percentage of the U.S. driving population, they are at an especially high risk of being involved in a crash. In fact, drivers between ages 16 and 19 have higher average annual crash rates than any other age group. Factors that contribute to teen drivers’ risk include their lack of experience and their tendency to engage in unsafe behaviors such as speeding, driving aggressively, or using a cell phone while behind the wheel. 

To help teen drivers stay safe on the road, researchers at the U of M’s HumanFIRST Laboratory have been working for nearly 10 years on the development of the Teen Driver Support System (TDSS). The smartphone-based system is a comprehensive application that provides real-time, in-vehicle feedback to teens about their risky behaviors—and reports those behaviors to parents via text message if teens don’t heed the system’s warnings.

TDSS provides visual and auditory alerts about speed limits, upcoming curves, stop sign violations, excessive maneuvers (such as hard braking or cornering), and seat belt use. It also prevents teens from using their phones to text or call (except 911) while driving. Parent notifications include information about the teen’s risky behavior as well as where and when it occurred.

In the latest phase of TDSS development, the research team has completed a 12-month field operational test of the system with funding from the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT). The test involved 300 newly licensed teens from 18 communities in Minnesota. Teens were divided into three groups: a control group in which driving behavior was monitored but no feedback was given, a group in which the TDSS provided only in-vehicle feedback to teens, and a group with both in-vehicle and parent feedback from the TDSS. speed limitDemonstration of a TDSS speeding alert. When the driver is following the posted limit, the display background is white.

According to Janet Creaser, HumanFIRST research fellow and a lead researcher on the project, test goals included measuring the effectiveness of the TDSS on teens’ driving behavior and investigating the specific benefits of providing feedback to parents. Preliminary results show that teens in the TDSS groups engaged in less risky behavior, especially the group that included parent feedback. These teens were less likely to speed or to engage in aggressive driving. Cell phone use was also blocked for both TDSS groups, while teens in the control group frequently used their phones to call and especially to text while driving. In addition, parent opinions of the system were highly favorable—more than 90 percent liked the system and would recommend it to other parents.

“This field test was the culmination of years of research developing the application,” says Sue Groth, director of the MnDOT Office of Traffic, Safety and Technology. “The results were exactly what we had hoped for, especially for novice drivers using the application with their parents’ supervision.”

Although these test results demonstrate that the TDSS can be effective in reducing risky driving behavior in teens, Creaser stresses that technology alone is not enough. Infographic

“We don’t want parents to believe that having something like this in the vehicle means their teen is OK. The technology is not a substitute for parent interaction,” Creaser says. “The whole goal of our system is to get parents talking to their teens about safe driving. And maybe, if you’re a parent getting 10 text messages a week, you’ll take your teen out and help them learn how to drive a little more safely.”

Currently, the HumanFIRST research team is working with the Liberty Mutual Research Institute for Safety on a focus-group study with participants from the field test. Their goals are to better understand how parents and teens used the TDSS and to gain more information about their opinions on the technology. 

Commercial app builds on design of TDSS

In 2012, the U of M licensed the software behind TDSS to a startup company, Drive Power LLC.

The company used the software to create DriveScribe, a smartphone-based application that offers in-vehicle driver coaching and real-time parent notifications similar to that provided by the TDSS. In addition, the application offers a points-based rewards engagement program. Teens earn points based on their safe driving performance and can redeem them for gift cards and discounts at major retailers.

The basic version of DriveScribe is available for free. For higher point-earning capabilities, the app is also offered at monthly subscription rates ranging from $3 to $10. To learn more, visit the DriveScribe website.

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