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Center for Transportation Studies

Teen Driver Support System

Although 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. 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. 

The TDSS device, mounted on the vehicle's dashboard, provides visual and auditory warnings to the teen driver about speeding, stop sign violations, excessive maneuvers, upcoming curves, unauthorized passengers, and seat belt use. It also prevents teens from using their phones to text or call (except 911) while driving. If an infraction continues after the TDSS warning, a text message is sent to parents. Information is also available to parents on a website that summarizes their teen's driving events and behaviors and archives the data for review over longer time periods.

A usability study of the system completed in 2011 found that teens and parents held favorable opinions about most of the TDSS functions. They also believed that using the system early in licensure may result in teens adopting safer driving habits that would remain even after the system was removed from the vehicle.

In 2014, the research team completed a 12-month field operational test of the system involving 300 newly licensed teens in Minnesota. The test included a control group that received no feedback, a TDSS group that received only in-vehicle feedback, and a second TDSS group that received both in-vehicle and parental notification. The test was designed to measure the effectiveness of the TDSS on teens’ driving behavior and investigate 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.

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 operational test. The study’s goals are to better understand how parents and teens used the TDSS and to gain more information about their opinions on the technology.


The University is exploring options for commercialization of the TDSS. At present, however, the system is not available to the public.

Media coverage

  • App developed at U alerts teens, parents to risky driving (StarTribune, February 6, 2015)
    The Teen Driver Support System smartphone app was developed after nearly 10 years of work. The U is now exploring whether the app can be commercialized.
  • U Of M researchers using smartphones to keep teen drivers safe (WCCO 4 News, February 5, 2015)
    Crashes are the leading cause of deaths for teenagers. That's why researchers at the University of Minnesota are using smart phones to keep teens safe behind the wheel, Kylie Bears reports
  • Device texts parents when teens drive poorly  (FOX 9 News, February 5, 2015)
    Researchers at the University of Minnesota have been working for 10 years to develop what's called the Teen Driver Support System (TDSS), a smartphone-based 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.”
  • U of M Creates Smartphone App to Critique Young Drivers (KSTP 5 News, February 5, 2015)
    Young drivers can thank the University of Minnesota's new smartphone app called Teen Driver Support System for the chat you'll have with your parents when you get home.
  • Driving too fast? Your cell phone will text your mom (MPR News, February 6, 2015)
    Parents of teenage drivers could soon have a new way to make sure their children stay safe behind the wheel. A cell phone app, developed at the University of Minnesota, monitors teens' driving habits in real time, and it alerts their parents when they break the rules of the road.


TDSS development and testing has been funded by the ITS Institute at the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

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