Teens may not be poor drivers by their very nature, but they are inexperienced drivers, and as such they may not even be aware of the fact that they’re speeding, paying insufficient attention to the road, or driving like complete maniacs. A parent or other experienced driver can advise them when they’re riding shotgun, but sooner or later, they’ve got to be allowed out on their own. The tiwi, a new device unveiled at CES this month, is intended to act as an electronic version of that ride-along parent – it makes teen drivers aware of their transgressions when they’re driving alone.

Manufactured by inthinc, the tiwi mounts on the inside of the vehicle’s windshield. It is equipped with an accelerometer and GPS, and is wired into the vehicle’s onboard computer. Utilizing this and other technology, it verbally lets teens know when they’re driving significantly over the posted speed limit, when they’re driving too aggressively (such as accelerating, braking or turning too hard), and when their seat belt isn’t fastened. It also disables their mobile phones while the vehicle is in motion, but allows for hands-free calls to or from a pre-assigned phone number in case of emergencies.

Via a web portal for the device, parents can tweak parameters such as how far over the speed limit their kids are allowed to drive. They can also set up SmartZones via Google Maps, that will alert them when their teens enter or exit certain predefined geographical areas – useful for knowing when they’ve left from or arrived at school, for instance, or just for being nosy.

Parents can be notified about their teens’ driving events via text messaging, email or phone, however... to make things easier for the teens, there is an optional and parent-adjustable grace period after each verbal warning. If the young driver corrects their wrongdoing within that amount of time, their parents need never hear about it. The inthinc rep at CES explained to us that this provides more incentive for the teens to improve their driving – if they realize they can avoid getting in trouble by driving better, they’ll do it, but if they figure that they’ve already been caught, then why bother?

The portal also produces report cards on the youths’ driving, with the intention that their confidence will improve as they see a tangible record of their advancing driving skills.

The tiwi is actually the simplified “civilian” version of a similar system that inthinc designed for businesses to monitor their fleet drivers. It is available through the company website, and costs between US$299.99 and $599.99, depending on the data plan selected.

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