Mobile app developers aren't waiting for Oprah or the federal government to solve teen driver safety issues. A number of parent-focused smartphone applications offer a variety of driver tracking features, competing over hackability, price, privacy, and customization. For those without smartphones, an entire cottage industry of cellphone-agnostic devices has sprung up in response to the sudden accessibility of tracking technology.
Taser, the non-lethal weapons manufacturer, busted into the software space at CES earlier this year with Protector, an in-car tracking device that automatically locks out a paired smartphone once the engine is switched on. Once enabled, the phone only displays a simplified blue screen, emblazoned with the Protector shield logo, and prevents calls and texts, except to 911 and select numbers permitted by parents.
The brute force security of an external hardware trigger is an attempt to preempt the hacking tactics of tech-savvy teens. Clever kids have a history of outsmarting adults, such as the young participants of an obesity study that attached a pedometer to their pets to fool researchers into thinking they were exercising more than they actually were. An external device might just make hacking the software more difficult, or, at least, more trouble than its worth. Taser's device sells for $249 on their website, plus a monthly subscription.
What about when teens are joyriding with their friends? Android-enabled Speedbump alerts parents whenever the smartphone detects motion faster than a pre-determined speed. Speedbump bills itself as more kid friendly, only triggering its big-brother tracking when a violation is detected; it also allows parents to set their own standards on speeds for residential, secondary, or highway roads (presumably, as part part of some negotiation with their child).
Speedbump's automatic speed detection is $12.99 per month, and offers a pricing plan which requires manual speed checks for $3 less a month. Thrifty parents who opt for the manual detection might feel secure that the "watch tower" effect of never knowing when one is being monitored will scare teens into behaving at all times. That effect, however, may only work for individuals who are risk averse, and is unlikely to deter the very type of teen who engages in reckless driving in the first place. So, if safety really is a concern, it might be wise for parents to pony up the extra $3 a month.
And, finally, what about concerned parents who haven't shelled out hundreds for fancy smartphones? The Internet is brimming with commercial fleet and vehicle tracking technologies that can be used by nervous parents to keep tabs on their teens. Indeed, the demand seems to be so high that these low-production websites seem like generic GPS technology websites retrofitted to Google search terms to capture worried parents looking for alternative solutions:
Until Google's self-driving car can take the human error component out of driving, limiting distractions and reducing the number of reckless drivers might just save some lives.