Teaching safe driving habits for teens: RHS one of 23 state high schools part of nation-wide Teen Safe Driver contest

Redmond High School (RHS) is among 23 Washington high schools participating in the Teen Safe Driver Program sponsored by American Family Insurance.

High schools throughout the country compete for cash prizes, seeing which can get the most parents and teens to enter into a driver safety pledge agreement that establishes best practices and clear expectations.

Number one on the list?

“I will never allow alcohol or drugs in the car at any time. Ever.”

Other promises are consistent seatbelt use, never using a cell phone or texting while driving, obeying the rules of the road, etc.

Local American Family Insurance agents help to promote the safety program in the schools. A participating agent is Julia Meek, owner of the American Family Insurance agency at 16541 Redmond Way; (425) 883-4849.

Each school will receive a check for at least $900 at a basketball game this season and participating schools can also win $25,000, $10,000 or $5,000 if they are among the top three schools based on a percentage of driving-age students who take the pledge.

In addition, individual participants can qualify for prize drawings, regardless of the school’s overall ranking. Those prizes include Nintendo Wiis, iPod Shuffles and iTunes gift cards.

The Teen Safe Driver Pledge program runs through March 1, 2010 and the top three schools will be announced in March.

According to Meek, participation in the Teen Safe Driver program and contest, including free use of a “DriveCam” for one year, is open to families who are customers of American Family Insurance.

Successfully completing the program encourages teens to drive responsibly and to qualify for discount insurance rates. Either students enrolled in driver’s education courses or teens who are already licensed drivers can benefit, said Meek.

Introduced in 2007 in association with DriveCam Inc., the Teen Safe Driver Program provides teens and their parents an in-vehicle video and audio unit that captures risky driving behaviors.

“The technology is like a cell phone, always working,” said Meek. “The DriveCam gets triggered to capture the first 10 seconds and last 10 seconds of an event such as slamming on the brakes,” she explained.

Parents can log in at www.teensafedriver.com to view their teen’s “driving report card” as well as video events and coaching tips, including objective, third-party assessment of the teen’s driving performance, compared with other teens.

Meek emphasized that the program isn’t solely aimed to catch teens in the act of doing something wrong, but to recognize when they do things right, too. In some cases, young drivers are reacting to careless driving by another individual or encountering an unexpected hazard.

Meek said she and her own son have shared a car equipped with a DriveCam — and her actions sometimes triggered the camera, too.

“We made bets about who would buy pizza,” based on which one set off the most camera recaps, she said.

While novice drivers are most likely to make mistakes, “you can still have camera in the car if they have a license and are now driving alone,” she added. “It only gets set off by a qualifying incident — and it can also protect the teen because the teen always gets the blame in a ‘he-said, she-said’ situation. There have been incidents where teens were cleared by the camera.”

In fact, in one local school parking lot, “not Redmond High,” said Meek, a teacher actually tried to blame a student for an accident, but the DriveCam showed that the adult was really at fault.

Meanwhile, the teens are made aware when the camera is recording them, because “a red light (on the camera) flashes if there is a qualifying event. Otherwise, the light is green,” said Meek. “Now they also have to react to knowing the camera was triggered.”

To view videos examples, visit www.teensafedriver.com.

Meek reiterated that using the DriveCam “is not meant to be Big Brother — it’s meant to give them valuable information, to be a better driver, to lower accidents … and it’s between the parents and the driver.”