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'Big Brother' is watching the road

The Teen Safe Driver Program employs a camera to record teen driver activity. Shown is an example of what is recorded. Submitted photo

"Big Brother" is always watching; and now he's even watching the car.

American Family Insurance offers the Teen Safe Driver Program which is a camera that can be installed into a teenager's vehicle and records any erratic driving activity.

Once the device records any erratic behavior it is sent to DriveCam's Event Analysis Center where it is analyzed and then the video is provided to the parents along with helpful tips to improve the driving habits of the teen.

Parents also receive a weekly report grading their child's driving.

The goal of the device is to ensure child safety, Ron Johnson, an American Family Insurance agent in Woodbury, said.

"I think everybody wins. Parents can sleep a little better at night -- it's almost like they're riding with the kids," Johnson said. "I haven't had an accident from anyone who has the camera in the car, it's like they don't exist."

The Teen Safe Driver program was developed because of the statistics accompanying teenage and new drivers.

According to the Teen Safe Driver website, "When parents are in the vehicle, teen drivers rarely crash. Take mom and dad out of the car and teens crash nine times more often than adults. Seatbelt use drops to less than 40 percent."

Johnson said the most frequent cause of accidents by teenagers are their many distractions -- talking with friends, toying with the radio, eating food and, the biggest culprit, cell phones and text messaging.

Since its introduction two years ago, a number of families currently have the camera installed in their child's car, Johnson said.

"It adds peace of mind," he said. "I don't know if the parents are paranoid, but the typical parents who insist or allow this program seem to be probably the more cautious ones -- they're the people we rarely hear from."

Johnson said numerous studies have shown the effectiveness of the program, on average, teens reduce the frequency and severity of high risk driving events by more than 70 percent in the first six weeks and driver seatbelt use improves from less than 40 percent to 100 percent.

"I haven't heard of an accident with a car that has had the camera installed," he said. "I haven't seen an accident from a teenager, which is unusual."

Jerry Helander, a Grant resident, installed the camera in his 17-year-old son's car in August after he saw a presentation about the product.

"It sounded like too good of an idea to pass up," Helander said.

Helander said the Teen Safe Driver program is an excellent product and he has recommended it to several people already.

"We trust him very much, but none the less he is inexperienced and we are going to try our best to get him through this phase of his life as safely as possible," Helander said. "There is a downside to it though, it records incidents even when I'm driving."

Even though parents see the benefits and the importance of having the camera installed in their cars, their teenagers are not so easily swayed. Johnson said he has heard from several teenagers who do not appreciate the invasion of privacy the camera brings.

"The young persons hate it, not all of them, but a good portion of them, for obvious reasons, don't like it," he said. "They get a little bit of a feeling of resentment, 'Doesn't mom and dad trust me?' Some parents give the young person an option, walk or have the camera installed."

Helander said his son didn't put up any argument about the camera, he has accepted it and doesn't carry any resentment.

"I think my son actually enjoys it," he said. "He's very careful to begin with, but he's proud that he's not racking up any points."

Johnson is quick to point out that most times a parent's decision to install the camera has very little to do with a lack of trust or the need to spy on their children.

"It's the fact that the statistics show that a young person is nine times more likely to have an accident," he said

"Frankly, I think kids get a bad rap, most people think they're goofing around and that's not what's happening, what's happening is they're distracted or they just don't have any experience."

For more information about Teen Safe Driver, visit

Amber Kispert-Smith

Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.

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