A new device will soon be available for parents to install in their vehicles that monitors and records their teenagers’ driving behavior. The device, known as a black box, bolts under the passenger front seat and is easily self-installed in vehicle models 1996 and newer. (Professional installation is required for models earlier than 1996.) The black box software tracks the vehicle’s speed, odometer reading, number of miles driven, how quickly the vehicle was stopped, and provides detailed measurements on the G-force on the driver and the passengers while the car is moving. The black box also sounds a warning tone when driving behavior is less than par – when the brakes are used too hard, when a turn is taken too sharply, when the vehicle exceeds 70 mph. The warning tone beeps softly at the beginning of the sub par driving, and if the driving behavior does not change, the beeps increase in volume. The newest setting to be added to the black box is the “Limp Bizkit beep mode” that increases the volume of the warning beeps to correspond with the noise level inside the vehicle, thus preventing teenagers from simply drowning out the beeps with loud music.
Once the vehicle is back in the driveway, the memory card can be removed from the back of the black box (by the parent), plugged into the back of a computer, and the data can then be downloaded (also, hopefully by the parent). The software compiles the driving data statistics and, based on the data downloaded, assigns a driving skill score from Level 1 to Level 10, with Level 5 being considered good driving. All drivers begin at Level 1, and in order to reach Level 5, the driver must drive at least eight miles without a single beep being recorded in the software. Originally developed for and sold to police and fire department vehicles and ambulances to monitor driving habits, the commercial models of the black box are more sophisticated and retail for as much as $3,500US. Their use has reportedly helped reduce collisions, poor driving habits and vehicle maintenance costs. The black box (both commercial and parent version) is sold by Road Safety International of Camarillo, California. The parental version will be available this fall, and will retail for $280US. Road Safety International also plans to make available next year a global positioning system (GPS) unit for vehicles that will allow parents to track the vehicle’s location by checking a Web site URL. Needless to say, teenagers will be unhappy with their loss of anonymity and infringement on their independence. Parents may be able to sleep better, knowing where their teenagers are, and that their teenagers will be learning better driving habits, even when their parents aren’t with them.