Driving too fast? Your cell phone will text your mom

Teen driving app
Research fellow Janet Creaser demonstrates how a smartphone app can help teens drive safely. For example, the screen turns yellow, then red, to remind drivers of the speed limit.
Jennifer Simonson / MPR News

Parents of teenage drivers could soon have a new way to make sure their children stay safe behind the wheel.

A cell phone app, developed at the University of Minnesota, monitors teens' driving habits in real time, and it alerts their parents when they break the rules of the road.

The app knows how fast the car is going and what the speed limit is for most roads. If the teen exceeds the speed limit by seven miles or more and ignores repeated warnings to slow down, the app sends a text message to his patents. The app also tattles if the driver rolls through a stop sign or otherwise drives erratically.

"It's a tool to support the parents," university researcher Janet Creaser said.

Creaser recently completed a 12-month field test with 300 Minnesota teens. The study showed the software is effective at improving driver safety. It found that teenagers who used the app were much less likely to speed than typical teenage drivers.

Teens without the app used excessive speed between 10 and 15 percent of the time, compared to one percent of the time for drivers using the app.

"It was a fairly big difference," Creaser said.

Excessive speed plays a role in about 30 percent of car crashes involving teen drivers, according to Creaser. Teens are more likely to be involved in car accidents than any other age group of drivers.

The university's Office of Technology Commercialization hopes to make the Teen Driver Support System available to the public by the end of the year.