AOL Autos - In-Car Tracking Device Tells Us We're Not Good Drivers
02/08/2010 - How badly do you think you drive? You'd be surprised.
In my first day testing a real-time driver-tracking device called the TIWI, I racked up an almost unbelievable 53 speeding violations and more than a few "aggressive driving" violations. And I'm a safe driver. Honest.
It's important to note here, of course, the sensitivity of the tracking device and environmental factors: After all, my commute involves about an hour of driving on Los Angeles freeways. And if you want to stick to the 65 mph limit while merging into a left side exit lane on the San Diego freeway then good luck to you. You may cause more accidents than you prevent.
One of the main goals of this device is to help parents monitor their teenagers in the first few years of driving.
So, how did my driving compare with teen drivers?
Apparently not so well: teens studied by TIWI were much more likely to improve their driving habits when under supervision of the device, as opposed to my brash disregard for the consequences.
A New "Report Card"
Part of the real benefit of the TIWI device isn't just the real-time alerts (the driver hears audible alerts inside the car when he or she has done something outside of the letter of the law), but rather the report that's generated.
All driver movements are logged in an internet portal that's accessible to the consumer by name and password. The data are kept for a year, and the site gives a breakdown of "alerts" -- or when the device has recorded errant driving like speeding or heavy braking -- that are compiled into a daily, weekly or monthly report card.
Inthinc, makers of the TIWI device and a host of other technologies used in trucking fleets and NASCAR, allow parents to customize the reports and also the areas where the alerts are triggered.
"You can schedule email reports to be sent for you whenever you want. Every time they drive over this zone, or a speeding event five miles an hour over the limit, for example," said Grant Keaton, sales operations manager at Inthinc. "We overlay the data with a Google map so you can track the car along like a standard map."
Parents can track events even sooner than the report card, though. Alerts sent in "real time" go out immediately by phone, email or text message.
How It Works
The sensitivity settings, like almost everything else on the TIWI device, are customizable: you can set a 10 mph buffer for freeway driving, for example. Leeway or not, the small, portable product is a boon for those overseeing a new, teen or elderly driver, all of whom are who are some of the most at-risk motorists on the road. It simply plugs into the car's computer port and attaches to the windshield like any other GPS unit.
"It's your typical GPS chipset, where you have a GPS that sends and receives signals and helps to triangulate a driver's movements," said Keaton. "[There is] a cellular modem for recording the position of the vehicle every few seconds."
Parents that seek this sort of oversight can buy a TIWI device for $299 and pay a monthly service charge of $39.99 a month for email alerts, text updates and customer support. Some insurance companies offer a discount for drivers with the device installed but may request access to the data stored in the log.
My Pitiful Driving Record
So how did I manage to rack up 53 speeding violations?
Well, that comes down to sensitivity settings of the device, of course. Drivers on almost any freeway across the US generally will drive at least 1 or 2 mph above the speed limit. Around L.A., much higher speeds are customary (although, of course, we'd never recommend you follow our anecdotal evidence in your own car).
When I used the TIWI, I had the device's settings at zero tolerance, meaning that when I drove at 66 mph on the freeway, or 31 mph on a regular road, the device would bleep and warn me in a computer-synthesized voice that I was breaking the speed limit.
One day I tried very hard not to rack up a single violation. But within five minutes, I was forced to brake hard when another driver drove straight out of grocery store parking lot without giving even a cursory glance. The device beeped. On one of the quietest side streets in town, I'd already racked up an aggressive driving violation. I cued a sensitivity settings adjustment.
But pity the son or daughter of a parent or guardian who refuses to accept these excuses and banishes them from driving the family car ever again after just one day with the TIWI device in the car. Like many things, but particularly the bond of trust between a new driver and their overseer, working with this device requires a degree of patience, tolerance and understanding.
I'd even recommend that a parent or guardian test the device first before setting it up in a kid's car.
Corey Catten, data specialist at Inthinc, told AOL Autos that when monitoring teen drivers' behaviors, the TIWI device showed remarkable improvement in the areas that lead to accidents.
"[TIWI showed] a 90 percent improvement in seatbelt usage, 23 percent reduction in speeding up to 10 mph over, and a 57 percent reduction in speeding at 10+ mpg over the limit," Catten said. "During the study period, statistically there should have been 7 crashes, but there were none. The 62% reduction in the chance of an accident is based on a combination of all these numbers."
That's a greater improvement than I showed with the device, although I should note that I haven't yet been in a crash that was my fault, so statistically a crash was unlikely to occur with the device in my car. And, I always wear a seatbelt.
I did, however, find a reduction in numbers of speeding incidents during my test period, though I believe this was more to do with the sensitivity settings than a change in my driving habits.
But if I'd had a parent on or onlooker monitoring my speeds or aggressive braking -- with the threat of banishment from the family car looming over me -- I'm pretty sure the results would've been different.
After a ten-day test, I was very impressed with the device. It was easy to set up and the data about my driving habits was interesting to see laid out like a report card.
Privacy issues understandably are a major concern: Who has access to the data and where is it stored, and for how long? Can insurance companies request information on your driving habits, and will that data be given out?
Inthinc's Jeff Harvey told us that the company doesn't share personal information.
"That data goes back to a database and is stored for different periods of time," said Harvey. "All of the data that is personal in nature is stored for the shortest amount of time. That data is accessible to parents through the [online] portal, which is password protected, and the data in our servers is protected. It's accessible only to the owner of the vehicle."
The company will not give any out information to insurance companies, although a driver can volunteer that information if they feel it would help bring down their premiums.
"We just store the [report card] score itself," Harvey said.
TIWI's device surprised me in its efficiency, ease of use and extra security and peace of mind it provides.
It might not turn your teenager into a model driver behind the wheel, but it could boost improvement over time.