Parents track teen drivers with real-time GPS monitoring
- Published Friday, November 10, 2006, by the Santa Rosa Press Democrat
Where's your teen driver?
While windsor parents praise GPS tracking device, son says, 'I hate it'
By Derek J. Moore
The Press Democrat
They aren't actually in the car with the 16-year-old but several
miles away at home, where a laptop displays Malone's location on a
map of the city and how fast the car is going.
The Windsor High School sophomore can forget about speeding or lying
about his whereabouts. A small device mounted behind the dash of his
2000 Toyota Celica GTS relays signals to a satellite, which in turn
updates his position on his parents' computer every 10 seconds.
"I hate it," Malone said.
More parents are turning to global positioning systems in an effort
to make their children better and more responsible drivers. But
doing so raises the stakes in the classic battle between teen
freedom and parental control.
Getting a driver's license and a car traditionally has been a teen's
first true taste of freedom. But it's hard to get lost when, with a
click of a mouse, Mom and Dad can locate you.
Malone's mother, Karen Kahn, and stepfather, Roger Rude, stressed
that their decision to install the tracking device was not punitive.
They described Malone as a terrific kid with a B average.
Malone saved enough of his own money to pay roughly half of the
Toyota's $10,000 price and he also pays insurance and gas, using
money earned at a part-time job.
He argues that he's not done anything to earn his parents' distrust
and, therefore, the monitoring is unnecessary.
He said getting your first car "is like the next step in trusting
your kid, having them drive off on their own. If they mess up, then
you can put it (a tracking device) on. But I haven't done anything."
He did, however, tell his mom that he has a burning need for speed,
a laudable display of honesty that has come back to bite him. The
teen begrudgingly admits that if the tracking device weren't there,
he'd probably go fast or take other risks with his car.
"Unfortunately, most teenagers don't have the maturity that comes
with instant freedom," said Rude, a retired Sonoma County sheriff's
lieutenant who has witnessed first-hand the tragedy that can result
when teens make mistakes behind the wheel.
Those risks are borne out by sobering statistics.
Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for 13- to
19-year-olds in Sonoma County. Seventeen teens were killed in
11 car crashes in Sonoma, Lake and Mendocino counties in 2005,
nearly matching the number killed in the previous three years
Nationally, 5,288 teenagers died in motor vehicle crashes in 2005,
according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
New drivers are at greatest risk for injury and death. Graduated
licensing programs and safety education courses have helped put a
dent in the carnage, and GPS technology also might help, although
there are no data to support that, said Russ Rader, a spokesman for
the insurance institute.
Rader said it's difficult to change attitudes and behaviors of
teens, so a monitoring device might make sense.
"Their behavior might be different if they know Mom or Dad can find
out how they drove, where they went and how they were behaving," he
Firm numbers for how many parents are turning to GPS are unavailable
as the practice is still new. But manufacturers of the technology
and the CHP report an increasing number of people using it.
Brad Borst, president and owner of Rocky Mountain Tracking Inc.
<http://www.rmtracking.com> in Fort Collins, Colo., said parents
seeking to monitor their teens' driving make up about 20 percent
of his business.
Overall, sales increased from $500,000 in 2005 to $1.5 million so
far this year, said Borst, a former police officer.
"I think it's a checks and balance system," he said of the
technology. "It's just a reminder to stay in line and do what
you're supposed to do."
Malone said his friends think the technology "sucks."
"I'm the only one probably in the school that has it," he
said. "It's ridiculous."
But he is abiding by the rules. His parents will take his keys if
he gets a speeding ticket but haven't decided what will happen if
he exceeds the limits.
"I'd have to weigh that out," his mom said. "I don't think it's
going to be an issue at all. He's not that way."
Borst said it's not just safe driving that parents are after. He
recalled one couple who bought a device after a car being driven by
one of their children ran off a road and wasn't found for a week.
By then it was too late.
Borst said his product differs from OnStar or LoJack in that it
allows users to do their own tracking in real time. He said several
major insurance companies offer discounts for the technology.
Rude said he called a number of electronics and auto stores in
Sonoma County but none carried the service. He went online to
buy the top-of-the-line GPS tracker from the Colorado company
for $425 and installed the device in his stepson's car.
The family's monthly plan allows for up to 10,000 updates, or
pings, for $32.95. They also had to sign a one-year contract.
The parents set the system up so that if Malone ever hits 70 mph in
the Celica, they get an e-mail alert. They'll get a similar alert
if he goes outside a "geo-fence," which is roughly the Windsor town
The device will be disabled or removed once Malone moves out of the
"This is helping me want to move out," he said.