October 21, 2011

AAA providing devices to let parents track young drivers

By David Hench dhench@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

How would a teenager drive if mom or dad were in the back seat?

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Cletus Nunes shows the message that parents get on their iPhone or other cellphone if the driver they are tracking leaves a pre-set boundary. Above is a screen shot from the password-protected website where AAA’s device will send information wirelessly.

Photos by Gordon Chibroski Staff Photographer

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“I don’t think it’s necessary. If you’re not keeping track of your kids on your own, that’s just silly. I think it would cost too much. We could be using the money for other things.” - Kelsey Foster, 17

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AAA insurance customers can find out, without enduring the booming bass of their kids' favorite hip-hop hits.

The association is offering every customer, free of charge, a GPS device -- about the size of a Chunky candy bar -- that can track where their car is, how far it has gone and when it exceeds a set speed. The device is similar to other commercial products that track drivers' whereabouts and driving habits.

The device can send parents an email or text alert when a teenager leaves school and arrives at the soccer game -- or leaves home and arrives in the Old Port when they're supposed to be at a friend's house.

"We wanted to provide a tool to help parents coach their teen driver," said Cletus Nunes, who is based in California as AAA's group manager for automotive and wireless product development. "The value of the tool is letting them know you're monitoring them and you're parenting. It's not about 'gotcha!'"

Not surprisingly, some teenagers have a less enthusiastic view.

"I think it's almost like an invasion of privacy," said Karl Rickett, 18, a Deering High School student. "It feels uncomfortable if your parents can know where you are every moment."

Kelsey Foster, 17, said, "I don't think it's necessary. If you're not keeping track of your kids on your own, that's just silly."

Some were less critical.

Adam Rodriguez, who is 16 and does not yet have his driver's license, said, "I wouldn't mind at all. I feel like I would be a good driver."

The AAA device has been available for about a year in California, and is now available in Texas and Missouri. Northern New England is the next area to get it, said Nunes.

The association has about 4,000 of the devices in cars now and hopes to have 10,000 by the end of this year. AAA thinks the investment will pay for itself through safer driving.

"We want to see parents more involved," Nunes said. "We want them working with their kids on a daily basis on encouraging non-risky behaviors."

The initiative could bring in business from increasingly anxious parents who want the devices as a way of keeping tabs on their kids' driving habits.

About 20 Maine teenagers die on the roads each year; 15 have died so far in 2011, said Pat Moody, spokesman for AAA Northern New England.

Nationally, drivers age 16 to 19 are more likely to get into a crash than those in any other age group, accounting for about 740,000 per year, said Nunes, who noted that this is national Teen Driver Safety Week.

Some parents say they would feel bad to be spying on their children.

But Nunes said, "No matter how good a kid they are and how much you love them, they're inexperienced drivers. We all want to be friends with our kids and have a good relationship. They have plenty of friends. They need parents."

With driver's education and a learner's permit, Moody said, a young driver in Maine typically gets about 45 hours of driving time with an experienced person. Then, they're on their own.

The GPS device allows parents to do more coaching if it's needed, he said.

But the tracking functions do raise privacy questions.

Nunes said AAA will not use the information to influence insurance rates, for instance, by raising rates for drivers who frequently exceed certain speeds.

The information could be subject to a court subpoena, but AAA plans to retain only three months of data. At some point, it hopes to have the data transferred to parents so it will not be responsible for storing any of it.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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“I think it’s almost like an invasion of privacy. It feels uncomfortable if your parents can know where you are every moment.” - Karl Rickett, 18

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“I find it just kind of awkward in general. They can just see whatever and know anything. I like some of it, like alerts for speeding – but not 5 mph over. I guess it would kind of depend on the parent and the kid.” - Eric DelMonte, 16

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