Colorado teens experiment with new technology to become better drivers

Nick DiUlio

It’s no secret that new teen drivers are the riskiest on the road. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, car crashes are the leading cause of death among 15- to 20-year-olds. In 2008, more than 2,700 drivers in that age group died in crashes – 12 percent of all drivers involved in fatal crashes that year.

In an effort to change this troubling reality, four Colorado high school students recently completed a six-week project designed to monitor, profile and hopefully improve each other’s driving habits using technology called ROVR.

The project was the idea of Keaton Skudneski, a junior at Cherry Creek High School near Denver. As a member of the school’s DECA program — an academic organization that teaches creative marketing and entrepreneurial skills to students — Skudneski had to come up with a concept for DECA’s annual 2012 marketing competition. So he turned to his stepfather, David Armitage, CEO of Cartasite, the company that created ROVR.

“He came to his mother and me last summer with three friends and said he wanted to do an experiment using ROVR,” Armitage recalls. “I couldn’t have been more excited.”

What is ROVR?

Armitage first developed ROVR (Realtime Operational Vehicle Reporting System) in 2004 as a way to monitor the habits of drivers of vehicles in large commercial fleets. The device is a small black box that plugs directly into a vehicle’s onboard diagnostic port,  next to the steering column, and monitors risky driving behaviors like speeding and hard braking.

ROVR then delivers weekly scorecards to drivers by email (with 100 being the best possible score), illustrating various driving patterns that indicate risky practices behind the wheel.

The device also delivers feedback on how to change harmful driving habits.

Armitage first introduced ROVR to a large fleet of vehicles in 2007, when the mayor of Denver asked him to help improve the gas mileage of municipal cars and trucks. With financial backing from the city, Armitage installed the device in 500 city-owned vehicles.

“When it comes to bad driving behaviors, the driver is both the problem and the opportunity,” Armitage says.

Within a year, Armitage noticed a big improvement in the driving habits of Denver’s municipal workers.

“Every Monday morning the drivers would gather around the water cooler and compare their scores,” Armitage says. “No one wanted to be the worst, and everyone wanted to be the best.”

Since better driving habits result in better gas mileage, Armitage says, the city’s fleet decreased fuel consumption by 15 percent in less than a year. What’s more, accidents involving municipal vehicles fell by more than 30 percent. Since then, ROVR has been installed in dozens of commercial fleets in more than 33 countries. For instance, Nobel Energy uses ROVR in vehicles as far away as West Africa.

A family affair

When Armitage’s stepson got his driver’s license in 2010, Armitage installed a ROVR device in Keaton’s car to encourage good driving habits.

If Keaton could score 90, he’d get $10 in extra gas money. If he could score 95 or above, the reward was $20.

“He couldn’t crack 85 for the first few weeks, but when he finally got his first 91 it was like someone had unlocked the keys to the kingdom,” Armitage says. “He’s driving with his eyes wide open all the time. And that’s what he hoped would happen to his friends with this DECA project.”

The project

Keaton first launched his six-week DECA project in November 2012. As the project’s sponsor, Cartasite installed ROVRs in 20 vehicles driven by students at Cherry Creek and nearby high schools. Cartasite also agreed to provide the financial incentives: $10 for a score of 90 and $20 for a score of 95.

At the beginning, the average score hovered around 83. But by the time the project ended in December 2012, the average had improved to 90.

“Kids started bragging to other kids about their high scores,” Armitage says. “And the monetary rewards made it fun. But the real takeaway was that the ROVR created an environment of constructive competition (among) these young drivers and made them better.”

Marketing teacher Jim Konrad, director of the DECA program at Cherry Creek, says many of the teens using ROVR were surprised by some of their bad habits and the mistakes they were making on the road.

Inspired by the results of Keaton’s project, Armitage says his company is looking at broadening the program to include more high schools across Colorado. He hopes to eventually make the device available to all American drivers.

“Our goal is to make this so … fun and so rewarding that kids go to their parents and ask them to put ROVRs in their vehicles,” Armitage says.

Car insurance for teens

Given the large number of accidents involving teens, it’s no surprise that their car insurance is expensive. However, teens and their parents can take steps to reduce those premiums.

First off, make sure your teen is properly covered. Richard McGrath, CEO of McGrath Insurance Group, says the most important part of a car insurance policy for teens is coverage for bodily injury and property damage.

Also, carefully consider the safety and condition of your teen’s vehicle. Russ Rader, a spokesman for the nonprofit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, says collision (which pays for damage to your car) and comprehensive (which pays for things like theft or damage done by animal) coverage premiums will be lower if your teen drives a safe car that has little value, since it costs less to repair.

Students also may qualify for insurance discounts for maintaining at least a B average in school, McGrath says. For additional savings, teens can take advanced driver training courses, in addition to driver’s education.

“The real key, though, to keeping premiums low for teen drivers is to drive safely,” McGrath says.

Add a Comment