Privacy & Teen Drivers

Data logger could expose teen’s bad driving behavior…or coach her to driver safer. What about her data privacy?

Data loggers capture the speed at which a vehicle travels and more. This shows the setup between hardware, car, and computer.

Dear Ms. Smartphone: A reader asked about installing a data logger to lower car insurance rates. I looked into it and like the idea but am worried about my teen. (read: Telematics and Teens). My daughter is not a good driver. She has had several near-misses and was once pulled over with friends for a DUI (she was not the driver). But, she is only 16. I worry that if we get this data-logger her bad driving behavior will be permanent on her record. Tony, Cambridge

Dear Tony: This is indeed a dilemma. Loggers are good things because they can coach road users to drive safely: they record events like excess speeding, stop sign violations, and jerky stops and starts. They can also ‘gamify’ driving and be a fun way to help your daughter become a better driver.

On the other hand, the privacy issues you raise are real. One state, California, has initiated a massive consumer privacy rights bill for 2020. In the past, it was illegal to sell information for children 12 and under without explicit consent. Now the age increases to 16. In principle and in most states, you can opt out of the data collection when you download an app. Do data loggers count? By definition, they record data!

Reputation- Digital

What are the reputation repercussions if your daughter is pulled over for a DUI, or a random check finds that she is underage and smoking marijuana? I really don’t know. We are supposed to protect our kids online. Teens are vulnerable when they engage in risky behaviors, and they cannot anticipate that their digital record could follow them permanently. 

2020 is said to be the year of privacy, and we can hope that issues like this get sorted out. However, Facebook has said that it does not need to make changes to its web-tracking services to comply with the new California legislation. Likewise, what happens if the data-logging firm that reports your daughter’s driving behavior is sold, or their privacy policy changes?

Protection First

These are challenging issues to sort out. As a parent, you must protect your daughter’s (digital) reputation.  So, begin at home – well actually in the car. Your daughter is at risk as a driver. Either take back the keys or begin anew with one-on-one driver training.

Telematics and Teens

Surprise! Having a smartphone in the car could make you a safer & better driver.

Credit: Cambridge Mobile Telematics, 2018

Dear Ms. Smartphone: Your column takes a hard stance on using smartphones in cars- they distract the driver, make them take their eyes off the road, slow down reaction times, etc. Yet, I see lots of drivers using their phones all the time. Are there circumstances when you would recommend using a smartphone in the car? Harrison, Boston

Dear Harrison: So, a big yes, and thanks for the observation. The first portable phones were called ‘car phones’ but they were suitcase sized and drivers had to pull off the road to call from them.

Today, car phones are bite-sized and an engineering advance called telematics links the car and driver.

Telematics 101

Three or four phone features on the smartphone, namely the accelerometer, the gyroscope, GPS, and compass, collect data and compile travel information.

Collectively, these are called telematics. They require giving up your location data and some privacy, but mobile tracking can make you or your teen a safer driver. Smartphones equipped with the software measure the ‘quality’ of driving.

Telematics can be a tool for parents to monitor teen driving and help teach them driver safety. They record the speed of travel, acceleration, hard braking, cornering, and the ultimate, smartphone use and distraction! There are different companies working on the software, such as Zendrive, and it is used commercially in trucking. One firm offers a telematic ‘game’ called DriveWell. Teens compete for the title of the safest driver in an annual competition sponsored by Cambridge Mobile Telematics. The app is useful for new drivers, as it helps them track if they brake too hard, corner too sharply, or exceed the speed limit.

Way to Go?

No matter whether it’s a game or everyday driving, there are savings and safety using telematics. For insurance companies, it provides a more micro-based, personalized way to set premiums. And, on the transportation horizon, counting miles traveled and time of day might edge out current funding schemes based on the gas tax and vehicle fees.

Safe Walk to School or Phone?

Mom worries about using
phones and earbuds when kids walk to school.

This is a logo for safe routes to school in Marin County, Ca.

Dear Ms. Smartphone: A Mom question- do you think it’s safe for an 11 year old that walks to school to have a phone? There are several big streets to cross, and I worry that he will be looking at his phone instead of the road. My son says everyone has a phone and most of the kids do walk to school in our neighborhood. D.D., Tiburon

Dear D.D.: A couple of thoughts on the question you pose. First, congratulations on living in a neighborhood where children can walk to school. Many schools, including the one in your town, have Safe Routes to School programs and you can get more involved with their training. Two communities I know of, Honolulu, Hi. and Montclair, Ca. have banned pedestrians from using phones and earbuds when crossing intersections, but it is not clear that there is much enforcement.

That said, don’t over-worry. Talk over the safety issues with your son and make a ‘compact’ with him to follow the advice from Safe Routes to School. Personally, I would threaten to take the phone away if you find he uses it while crossing streets. Explain that he needs to focus for the full time.

There is a lot of confusion around phones and pedestrian safety. On the one hand, the percent of traffic deaths involving pedestrians has soared from 12% to 16% between 2008 and 2018. During the same time period phone ownership surged, and car safety improved. However, this could be a spurious correlation. Seventy five percent of the pedestrian fatalities occur after dark. It is also known that 32% or more of the ped fatalities are alcohol related. As in distracted driving, it’s hard to get the ‘real’ rate when phones (or marijuana/drugs) are involved.

You are right to question whether kids, phones, and walking mix well. One obvious point is to make safety and phones an everyday lesson, and make it a new discussion point with the November 3 switch to Daylight Savings Time.