Safer Teen Car System Study by NHTSA Moves Project Forward

April 28, 2016

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has released a final report on the “Safer Teen Car” (Referred to in the study documents as STC) system. The system is designed to provide real-time feedback to teen drivers in the absence of a live adult or parent passenger. The system is designed to be implemented as a standard feature in newer cars available in the US in response to the ever-increasing number of vehicle crashes involving teen drivers.

NHTSA report reveals viability and effectiveness of the “Safer Teen Car” system

The ITS Institute at the University of Minnesota set out to create an onboard system to help teenagers drive more safely. Teenage drivers are the highest risk demographic on the road, but due almost exclusively to a lack of experience. The Safer Teen Car device was created with this in mind. The device is designed, not to report misuse and poor driving habits to parents the way so many apps do, but to offer real-time driving feedback and to aid in reinforcing good driving habits. The Safer Teen Car system will also point out poor driving habits in an effort to help teens distinguish between the two.  But how will it do this?

How the STC system works

According to the study and findings published by the NHTSA, he Safer Teen Car system wouldn’t report or record the teen driver’s actions. Instead it would monitor them in real time, theoretically by being connected to the car’s computer and employing an accelerometer and gyroscope to register changes in speed and direction. The system would notify the teen driver when an improper action has been taken and would then encourage the teen to rectify their mistake (by slowing down, signaling before turning or changing lanes, etc.). This all sounds well and good, but what good does such a system do if there’s no enforcement and no reporting? The NHTSA seems to have thought of this. The STC system has the ability to cap the vehicle’s speed and disable “infotainment” devices within the vehicle that may be causing a distraction such as cell phones, dvd players, or the radio.

The study report from the NHTSA identified several functional areas which would need to be addressed in order for such a device to be considered effective. Among them are:

  • A way to identify the teen driver
  • Seatbelt detection and reminder system
  • A way to determine if there is a passenger and what kind of passenger they are (adult or peer)
  • Speed monitoring and feedback
  • Excessive maneuver feedback
  • Cellphone use detection and mitigation
  • A way to determine the driving context

What the Safer Teen Car system study determined

A field evaluation of 30 teen drivers in a combination of rural, suburban, and urban driving environments took place over the course of ten weeks. During this time the STC system’s function and response was monitored as well as how the teen drivers responded to feedback from the Safer Teen Car system. According to the NHTSA, they found “improved safety behavior during the treatment period” and that both teens and parents agreed that the STC system was “useful and safety-enhancing” and that the system did actually change teens’ driving behavior. Also of importance, the study notes that the parents of the teen test drivers would occasionally recommend the Safer Teen Car system to other parents and “did not view the system as an invasion of privacy”.

The STC system has been reviewed by a number of auto manufacturers who agree that the device would be useful if it were a standard feature in new automobiles. Many manufacturers offered feedback on the prototype designs and offered ideas for additional or enhanced functionality.


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