About two dozen students at Clear Creek Amana High School are taking part in a high-tech study of their driving habits. Tiny cameras and microphones are mounted on their rear-view mirrors along with micro-computers. University of Iowa vehicle safety researcher Dan McGehee says the digital devices work something like TiVo.
McGehee says the camera is on 24-hours a day but it only records when it senses an “exceedence,” like when the driver makes a hard brake or a swerve. If a teen driver follows too closely or takes a corner too fast, they have to brake hard to adjust for that high speed. When the camera is triggered, it automatically saves 20 seconds of audio and video, from before and after the event took place, both inside the car and ahead of the vehicle. McGehee says those 20-second clips are automatically sent to the U-of-I using the latest technology. McGehee says they set up a secure wireless network within the high school’s parking lot, so every day when a student drives in, the system downloads the data which is encrypted across the lines to the lab for analysis.
He says he’s been surprised that few distractions for the teen drivers involved things like the radio or cell phone conversations. Still, in the few months of the program, six of the 26 students have collided with deer, two within minutes of each other this month. McGehee says the U-of-I chose Clear Creek Amana because it serves a district covering 162 square miles of eastern Iowa. McGehee says “Most drivers can drive a lifetime without getting into a crash but teens are particularly vulnerable, especially in the rural areas because they’re driving so much. The average teen in the study drives 40 miles a day on gravel roads and rural highways so they’re looking at high speeds and very high exposures to crashes.”
McGehee says even the riskiest students have seen driving errors, crashes and near-crashes fall 76-percent since starting the study. As an incentive, participating students are paid 25-dollars a month.