In-car cameras help teens improve driving skills


by JOE FRYER / KING 5 News

Posted on February 27, 2012 at 5:11 PM

Updated Monday, Feb 27 at 8:21 PM

UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash. – Teenage driver Joy McVicker initially thought her parents were joking when they said they were putting a video camera in her car.

“But then once I got in my car, it wasn’t so funny anymore,” she said.

Six months later, McVicker has adjusted to the DriveCam – a black box that hangs right behind her rear-view mirror.  One camera inside the box is pointed at the driver’s seat, the other is aimed out the windshield, showing what is happening in front of the car. 

The camera’s red light comes on anytime McVicker does something risky, like braking quickly or taking a corner too fast.  It then sends her parents a 12-second video, which shows the eight seconds before her risky maneuver and the four seconds after.  That brief clip frequently offers up a teachable moment, something McVicker and her parents can watch together and discuss.

“I think it has helped me learn I’m not actually as good of a driver as I think I might be,” McVicker said.

The McVickers signed up for the program through American Family Insurance’s “Teen Safe Driver Program.”  For that company’s policyholders, newly licensed teens can use DriveCam technology for free for up to one year.  The insurer says the videos have no impact on insurance rates.

In the first six months, McVicker’s camera has captured plenty of risky maneuvers, like hitting the curb while driving through a neighborhood roundabout.

She learned the most from a close call with a jaywalking pedestrian who appeared in front of her, prompting her to slam on the brakes. 

“I was completely unprepared,” she said.  “It was so scary and I remember thinking afterward, 'Wow! I should’ve been paying better attention.’”

Her parents, Jeff and Ellen, admit the videos are not easy to watch, but they need to be used as a learning tool, not a punishment.

“We can’t overreact to the situation,” Jeff McVicker said.  “We need to just remember and try to help her.”

So far, the videos seem to be helping.  McVicker is triggering the camera much less frequently and her risk behavior, according to the program, has dropped from red (the worst level) to yellow (the second best level). 

“We’re hoping to see green very soon,” Ellen McVicker said.  

The McVickers realize teen drivers are more at-risk than any other group of drivers.  A recent report by the Governors Highway Safety Association found that driving deaths for 16- and 17-year-olds are on the way up for the first time in eight years.  There was an 11 percent increase in deaths among that group during the first half of 2011.  In Washington, the number of deaths doubled from three to six during that time. 

The effect of graduated driver licensing laws could be leveling off, leading to the death increase, the report stated.  And economic conditions have improved, leading to more time for teens to spend behind the wheel.

Research shows in-vehicle cameras seem to make a difference with teen drivers.  A University of Iowa study found the technology can reduce risky driving behaviors by up to 70 percent.  And DriveCam claims that, based on national teen-driving statistics, a dozen teens who have used DriveCam should have died in a crash, but only 2 have actually been killed in an accident.

Despite her original concerns about privacy, Joy McVicker feels the camera has made a difference.   She still has six more months before her DriveCam goes away. 

“I am a little bit excited, I can’t lie,” she said.  “But I’m going to miss it.  That’s my buddy in there.”

Her parents are so impressed with the technology, they plan to get a video camera for Joy’s younger sister, who will begin driving soon. 

For those who are not insured through American Family Insurance, DriveCam costs about $900 during the first year.