Max Donath, Professor, Mechanical Engineering
Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of teen fatalities. One approach to reducing fatalities is the use of Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) programs that limit teens' exposure to risky situations. A Teen Driver Support System (TDSS) has been developed by the Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) Institute that will allow parents to accurately monitor their teen's driving behavior in relation to known risk factors and GDL provisions. The TDSS, based on a teen's smart phone, provides real-time, in-vehicle feedback to the teen about his or her driving behavior and helps parents monitor certain known risk factors. The system does not allow incoming or outgoing phone calls or texting while the teen is driving.
Feedback to the teen driver includes warnings about speeding, excessive maneuvers (e.g., hard braking, cornering), and stop sign violations. The TDSS prototype also monitors seat belt use and detects the presence of unauthorized passengers (e.g., based on GDL provisions), two known factors that increase the risk of fatalities among teen drivers. The TDSS can also be programmed to monitor driving during the GDL curfew (e.g., midnight to 5 a.m. in Minnesota) or a curfew set by parents. The in-vehicle, real-time feedback provided to the teen driver differentiates the TDSS from many of the teen monitoring devices currently on the market.
Because the TDSS is programmed in a cell phone, it is capable of providing near real-time feedback to parents about a teen's driving behavior. For example, if a teen receives feedback that he or she is speeding but fails to reduce the vehicle's speed after being warned, the TDSS will automatically text message the teen's parents to inform them of the speeding behavior. Feedback to the teen informs them about their unsafe driving and gives the teen an opportunity to change behavior before his or her parents are notified. This near real-time feedback to parents allows them an opportunity to engage in a conversation with their teen about the unsafe behavior soon after it occurs. This is in contrast to other teen systems that typically provide feedback once a week or once a month, long after the risky behavior has occurred. Parents also have access to a summary report via a secure Web site where they can monitor their teen's behavior over time and discuss this with their teen.
A usability review of the prototype TDSS was used to identify the extent to which parents and teens perceived the TDSS to meet expectations for monitoring and encouraging safe driving behavior, with and without GDL provisions, and to make suggestions for design changes to improve the effectiveness and acceptance of the system. The study evaluation was run in Washington County, Minnesota, and 30 teen-parent pairs successfully completed the usability evaluation. In general, the majority of teens found the functions to be accurate during a 30-minute drive with the system and felt the TDSS would help them reduce risky behavior and comply with legal driving requirements, such as wearing a seat belt, not speeding, and stopping fully at stop signs. Parents were also positively inclined about the TDSS functions and the majority (95%+) would recommend the TDSS to other parents and teens based on their experience in the usability study. Several recommendations are made to improve the TDSS functions and interfaces based on the results.