It's time to drive

iPhone app created for parents of teens learning to drive
Jul. 31, 2013 @ 05:06 AM

Getting your first driver license is a big responsibility.

In North Carolina, applicants who are 15 years old can begin getting their driver license. A pertinent piece of the licensing process for teens is the limited learner permit stage.

According to the North Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), during the initial learner period new drivers are required to spend 12 months and a specific number of hours practicing under the supervision of a licensed parent, legal guardian, grandparent or approved adult.

Now the University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center (HSRC) and the Center for the Study of Young Drivers have developed a smartphone app called "Time to Drive" that provides guidance to parents and lessens their anxiety when teens are learning to drive.

"We've done research in North Carolina that shows teens aren't really getting that much driving practice when they have a learner permit," said Arthur Goodwin, a senior research associate with HSRC's Center for the Study of Young Drivers. "In our state, the year-long learning period for teen drivers is a long time for parents and teens to be out there driving together. And the state doesn't really give much help or direction for parents on what they're supposed to do during this process."

Time to Drive, developed in collaboration with Sky Highways, Inc., is the first research-based iPhone app designed to help parents ensure their teens get enough driving practice during the first year of supervised driving.

"It is critical that teens get lots of experience in all kinds of driving situations while a parent is still supervising and guiding the process," Goodwin said. "Time to Drive will help parents better prepare their teens for the high-risk period and situations they are likely to face when they begin driving on their own."

The idea for the app grew from research conducted by the HSRC which showed that many teens do not get enough driving practice, especially in potentially challenging situations including darkness, inclement weather and heavy traffic. According to Goodwin, this lack of driving experience is one of the primary reasons why motor vehicle crash rates are so high during the first few years of driving.

"One thing our researchers have found that makes a difference in teen drivers is how much experience they get," said Caroline Dickson, manager of communications at HSRC. "Often when teens are driving they are only driving to and from school, home or church — so it's the same route over and over again. Teen drivers really need to drive different routes and they need different experiences, and the app helps keep track of that and encourages parents to allow their teens to drive in those different situations."

Time to Drive will record the amount of driving and weather conditions, display a map of past trips, provide tips for parents, encourage the parent-teen team to meet driving goals and generate logs that can be presented to the DMV.

"North Carolina has this requirement where you have to keep track of how many hours teens drive during the learner stage. And we've heard from parents that although they think it's important that teens do get practice, they really find it tedious to keep track of hours using pencil and paper forms," Goodwin said. "They often forget to do it or the teen doesn't keep up with the hours, but the app is a much more user-friendly, convenient way to keep track of those driving hours."

Among the tips the app provides for parents are how to handle a teen who may be scared to drive and how to choose an appropriate vehicle for a newly licensed teen driver.

Another unique feature of the app is a hard-stop meter that helps parents identify when the teen brakes too hard. The goal is to help teens learn to brake sooner and more gradually. According to the HSRC, braking too late is one of the most common contributors to teenage driver crashes.

The HSRC's Center for the Study of Young Drivers studies the factors that contribute to the high teen crash rate, with the goal of improving young driver safety through the development of policies and programs like Time to Drive.

Time to Drive is currently only available for iPhone users and can be purchased in the Apple iTunes store. Goodwin hopes to make the app available for Android phones in the near future. All proceeds from the app go toward maintaining the app and supporting research by the Center for the Study of Young Drivers.

"We want the app to help parents and teens make the most out of that learning period so that teens are as prepared as they can be once they get a driver license and start driving on their own," Goodwin said.


Learn more about the Time to Drive app:


•View the YouTube video HERE