Sydney Morning Herald - Saturday 24 May 2008
Eagle eye on young drivers
SATELLITE tracking systems and surveillance cameras in young drivers' cars are the answer to troublesome teens on the road in the United States.
It is a way for parents to keep an eye on their children without sitting in the passenger seat, and aims to encourage safer driving habits.
For many teens in NSW, P-plates represent new-found freedom. However, statistically speaking, young people are among the most over-represented in road accidents. The Roads and Traffic Authority says a 17-year-old driver with a P1 licence is about four times more likely to be involved in a fatal crash than a driver aged 26 or older.
Some Australian road safety experts want the satellite tracking technology made available here.
Devices in the US such as the Safety Beacon notify parents if the car exceeds the speed limit for more than 30 seconds, if the vehicle is being used outside agreed times, or if it goes outside set boundaries.
It lets a parent know a vehicle's location, direction, and speed in real time on a map.
"Your teen was heading to a friend's house across town; how can you be sure he made it there all right?" says the website. "With the Safety Beacon, you can know your teen arrived safely, even when they forget to check in."
It's a concept teens may find difficult to warm to - parents tracking their every move.
Some surveillance technology even records sound and vision. When sensors detect erratic driving, not only do parents know, they can review it with their children later.
The road-safety activist Harold Scruby said he would like to see similar technology in Australia. "A lot of parents would love to know where their kids are and how fast they're going," he said.
"We have some of the best P-plater rules in the world, but police can't enforce every road. A guardian angel like this could help."
Professor Jeremy Davey, from the Centre for Accident Research and Road Safety at Queensland University of Technology, said parental alert technology raised serious questions about civil liberties and privacy.
But if they could be overcome, the system would let parents mentor young drivers.
"Young people are the real at-risk drivers," he said. "Research does show many young drivers think their learning time and experience is over once they get their licence, but that's when the true learning begins. The idea of mentoring young drivers is important."
However controversial, the devices have features that cannot be debated. If a vehicle is stolen, the Safety Beacon can find it. If a teenager takes the car without their parents' permission, they will get caught.
What is more, if the keys are locked in the car, a parent can unlock it from home.