Terrified for Your Teen Driver? This New Tech Will Calm Your Nerves

APRIL 7, 2016 • Blog Post • BY ATLANTIC RE:THINK

IN THIS ARTICLE

  • New technologies combine wireless connectivity, real-time analytics and cloud computing to provide an accurate evaluation of a teen drivers performance
  • Information generated by connected cars not only provide parents with more oversight and control, but also lead to teachable moments to further a drivers development

How ingenious smart car technologies are taking some of the fear out of one of parenthood's most challenging moments

When David Kent’s teenage daughter Hanna first started driving herself to school about a year and a half ago, he was understandably anxious about turning over the keys. How would she handle the 15-mile stretch of highway traffic near their home just outside Charleston, South Carolina? Or bad weather? Or a roadside breakdown?

Then he found out about a device that could be installed just below the steering wheel of the family’s 2004 Toyota Sequoia. That new gadget and the technological breakthroughs behind it turned the family’s workhorse SUV into a smart car and gave him much-needed peace of mind. Just by glancing at his cellphone, he could monitor Hanna’s location and the car’s operation anytime he wanted.

“It alerts me when she leaves the house,” Kent says. “It alerts me when she gets to school. I don’t have to worry if she got there okay.”

For years, the connected car represented little more than a showpiece to most consumers—a bright shiny object for car enthusiasts, tech geeks and other early adopters. But more recently, as automakers and tech startups rushed in to retrofit vehicles with new devices and mobile apps, they stumbled on a small but fast-growing market niche: nervous parents of teenage drivers.

The result has been a frenzy of new technologies that combine Big Data, real-time analytics, wireless connectivity and cloud-based computing power to allow parents to keep closer tabs on their kids’ driving habits. Although that new-driver phase is still fraught with emotion—for teens an early taste of freedom, for parents a battle between hope and fear—the emergence of smart cars may help smooth out what remains one of the bumpiest legs of the journey from childhood to becoming a full-fledged adult.

  • This technology empowers teen drivers without being perceived as being intrusive or complicated.

“We have created a set of capabilities that empower and enable teen drivers without being perceived as being intrusive or complicated,” said Mark Spain, automotive VP for Vinli, a two-year-old technology startup that makes one of the leading connected-car platforms. “It’s a big challenge.” 

To be sure, most of the new smart car services are not designed exclusively for teenage drivers or their worried parents. Typically, they are part of a suite of applications that do everything from providing in-vehicle Wi-Fi access and automatically dialing roadside assistance in the event a collision to helping the driver determine whether the check engine light really means the vehicle is too dangerous to drive. Most require the purchase of a small device that fits in what’s known as an OBD-II port, which enables digital connectivity in all cars manufactured after 1996. On top of that, there are usually monthly service or data usage fees (though many of the devices and services may be subsidized by automakers, dealerships or outside parties seeking to gain access to valuable data).

The smart car technologies aimed at teenage drivers generally fall into three categories. First, there are services that hardwire safe driving habits into the vehicle itself—an effort to mitigate the hazardous mix of teenage inexperience, overconfidence and seemingly endless digital distractions that contributes to a fatal crash rate for 16 to 19 year-olds that is nearly three times higher than the rate for drivers 20 and older, according to Insurance Institute for Highway Safety statistics.

General Motors, for example, introduced “Teen Driver” mode to its 2016 Chevrolet Malibu—a fully integrated feature that it plans to expand to a broader array of brands and vehicles in the coming year. Parents simply program the car to recognize the key fob they give their teen and Teen Driver will automatically launch several safety features once they get behind the wheel. It automatically mutes the radio until front safety belts are fastened, for example. It can also set the car stereo’s maximum volume, prompt alerts for speed exceeding 40 to 75 mph and activate safety features such as forward collision alert and stability control.

“We know teen drivers are a high-risk group of drivers,” said MaryAnn Beebe, the lead safety engineer for Teen Driver. “So having these extra safety features that give teens warnings and can help prevent crashes or lessen their severity is really important.”

Vinli’s app catalog offers a program called Text Ninja, which is designed to prevent teens—or any driver—from talking or texting over a smartphone once they take the wheel. When the Text Ninja app is activated, Vinli’s cloud platform automatically sends a signal to the driver’s mobile device to mute all inbound messages while the vehicle is in motion. “There’s no ringing, dinging or buzzing vibration that teens have almost been conditioned to respond to,” says Vinli ‘s Mark Spain. 

Another set of smart car technologies designed for teenage drivers combine geolocation data with messaging alerts so that parents and other family members can receive continuous updates on their teens’ location. Zubie-enabled vehicles, like the Kents’ SUV, use GPS and cellular technology to allow parents and other family members to monitor the vehicle’s location in real time on a digital map. Meanwhile, parents can set up “place alerts” for locations like home, work, school or the local shopping mall to notify them whenever the driver arrives or leaves. “This is the second best thing to being in the passenger seat,” says Navin Ganeshan, Zubie’s chief product officer.

  • Geolocation messaging in vehicles is the second best thing to being in the passenger seat.

Zubie and most other services go one step further. Using so-called geofencing technology, parents are now able to set virtual limits on how far from home their teen is allowed to drive. With Hum, which is Verizon Telematics’ connected car system, parents can literally use a finger to sketch out boundaries for their vehicle on a digital map. Hum will then send a text, email or message alert each time the vehicle enters or exits the designated area. The program can actually keep track of multiple boundary areas, tied to specific days and times, so parents might restrict driving to a three-mile radius during the school week but a 10-mile radius during the weekend.

“Family members now have the opportunity to remain connected to their teenage drivers without constantly bothering them while they are on the road,” says Michael Maddux, Verizon Telematics’ director of product development.

A third category of smart car technology allows parents to leverage the data these systems collect to inform conversations with their teens about their driving behavior—and track their improvement as they log more miles on the road. GM’s Teen Driver system, for instance, pulls together some of the data it tracks in what it calls an in-vehicle report card. Although only accessible from the vehicle’s digital dashboard, parents can sit down with their teens and review key metrics such as the distance driven, speed warnings and the number of times the stability control system was activated.

“It gives parents a tool to have that conversation so you can continue coaching,” says GM’s Beebe. “And it gives teens the opportunity after they have been driving responsibly to get some more driving privileges out of it.”

Meanwhile, Zubie provides its users with a daily driver score based on dozens of metrics that assess behaviors widely viewed as impacting driver safety and vehicle performance. Among the most important: how hard the driver is tapping their breaks, how often they rapidly accelerate, how often the car faces stop-and-go traffic and how often the driver speeds or takes the vehicle out late at night. A proprietary algorithm calculates the score, ranging from zero to 100, and posts it on the Zubie mobile app. Teens can drill down into the results and compare their scores with friends, siblings and even their parents. “It’s like a Fitbit for your car,” says Ganeshan.

Some manufacturers are allowing users to choose to share their driving data with outside parties as well. For example, Zubie has partnerships with auto insurers, such as Progressive, which automatically reward teens who earn high driver scores with a “good driver discount” on their premiums. Similar deals are available for extended warranties and routine car-maintenance services for drivers who put less wear and tear on their cars.

Others see a convergence with the Internet of Things. Teens, for example, are notoriously forgetful when it comes to turning off the air conditioning and lights when they leave the house. Now they don’t have to remember: Their smart car will do it for them. Earlier this year, Vinli introduced an app called Home Connect, which allows a number of popular connected devices to be controlled whenever a Vinli-enabled vehicle crosses a specific boundary, such as pulling into a driveway or subdivision. So when a teen drives to soccer practice, Vinli can send a signal to shut off the smart thermostat and lighting systems, and then turn them on again when the car and driver are close to home.

“People are living increasing digitally connected lifestyles,” says Spain. “We see an opportunity for a seamless set of experiences that flow between your smart connected home and your smart connected car.”

Hewlett Packard Enterprise is pushing the Internet of Things forward by building a new class of systems that compute and analyze data where it lives—everywhere. For more information about HPE's IoT solutions, CLICK HERE.

For more information on HPE’s anytime, anywhere, any-device mobility solutions, CLICK HERE.

For years, the connected car represented little more than a showpiece to most consumers—a bright shiny object for car enthusiasts, tech geeks and other early adopters. But more recently, as automakers and tech startups rushed in to retrofit vehicles with new devices and mobile apps, they stumbled on a small but fast-growing market niche: nervous parents of teenage drivers.

CLICK HERE to learn more about how new technologies are putting parents at ease and changing the way teenagers drive.

Hewlett Packard Enterprise is pushing the Internet of Things forward by building a new class of systems that compute and analyze data where it lives—everywhere. For more information about HPE's IoT solutions, CLICK HERE.

For more information on HPE’s anytime, anywhere, any-device mobility solutions, CLICK HERE.

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