Teens have long had the highest crash rate of any age group in the United States, but the stretch roughly from Memorial Day through Labor Day is especially dangerous. According to 2013 data from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, June, July and August had higher teenage crash deaths than in any other months of the year.

Anybody who has teenage drivers in the house has probably spent fretful moments waiting for their child to come home after a night behind the wheel, particularly in that first year after getting their license.

If you’re like me, the interrogation begins right after your teen hit the front door: Where did you go? Did you get on the highway? Who else was in the car? And did you remember to pull over to the side to answer you cellphone?

Ever-improving technology provides those answers – and offers parents peace of mind and possibly discounts on car insurance premiums, too.

In-car devices for monitoring teen drivers have been around for several years, but as the technology has improved so have the options to choose from. These devices – relying on GPS, or global positioning system technology – check on speed, location, accelerating, braking and more. Parents can even get a daily driving report card sent to their email, and be alerted if the device is unplugged.

Some systems are offered for free by insurance companies for one year. Others range from $80 to $150 plus monthly service fees of about $20.

The premise behind the technology is simple: Teens who know they’re being monitored by their parents will take fewer risks than unsupervised teens, resulting in fewer accidents and safer driving habits. And data supports that notion.

The devices are easy to install. Find the diagnostic port, which is usually under the left side of the dashboard, and plug it in.

If you’re shopping for a monitoring device, start with your auto insurer to see if they offer one, said Mike Right, a spokesman for AAA Missouri. While the devices are often pitched as a way to lower your teen’s insurance premium, that’s not always the case, he added.

Travelers Insurance, for example, offers a premium discount on its IntelliDrive program, which is available in eight states. On the other hand, USAA does not on its Young Drivers Intelligence service. However, it will pay the $279 product cost for one year.

Consumer Reports magazine last year highlighted three devices that performed well in its tests: Mastrack, MobiCoPilot and Motosafety.

Before adding the plug-in, make sure your particular vehicle is compatible with the device, Right said. Most work on all vehicles built after 1996. Another area to explore is the privacy practice of the companies offering the device. What are they doing with the data collected on your young driver?

In addition to the GPS devices, there are plenty of smart phone apps that prevent texting and talking while driving. For example, Sprint’s Drive First app detects when the vehicle is in motion and sends auto replies to text messages and directs incoming calls to voice mail. AT&T’s DriveMode has similar services.

What if you opt to skip the GPS devices and phone apps? At the very least, AAA recommends a parent-teen driving agreement that lays down clear rules and consequences for young drivers. For a sample contract, go to TeenDriving.AAA.com.

Until driverless cars hit the roads in full force, contracts and tech tools may have to suffice.


Steve Rosen is assistant business editor at The Kansas City Star. To reach him, call 816-234-4879 or send email to srosen@kcstar.com.

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