High-tech apps track drivers to help prevent tragedy

WASHINGTON -- Smartphones, cars and teenagers make a dangerous combination. But, now there’s a smartphone app that may save lives.

Sarah Gregory’s been driving for about a year. Her parents asked her to download an app that tracks and scores her performance every time she’s behind the wheel.

We asked her if she would consider herself a good driver.

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Sarah Gregory with CBS News’ Kris Van Cleave

CBS News

“As good as a 17-year-old could be I guess?” she said.

It’s almost like having Mom or Dad in the car to remind you.

“Yeah, knowing that it’s running in the background probably helps me drive a lot better because if I’m speeding I’m like, ‘oh wait, my app is going to take off for that,’” she said.

Nearly 2,000 teen drivers were killed in crashes in 2015 -- up 9 percent from the previous year.

Sarah’s parents -- Julie and Cliff -- also use the EverDrive app.

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Sarah’s father Cliff

CBS News

“We could actually tell when they used their phone or when they didn’t use their phone. We can tell if they exceeded the speed limit, we could tell whether they were stopping or accelerating like crazy,” Cliff told us.

We asked former NTSB chair Deborah Hersman, who now runs the National Safety Council, if these devices make an adult a better driver.

“Absolutely think they have the potential to do that, but it’s not going to work for everyone in the population,” Hersman said.

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Deborah Hersman of the National Safety Council

CBS News

“What we have to do is get to a point where everyone is comfortable getting that feedback and modifying their driving behavior,” she said.

The technology is a growing business -- from apps to devices like Verizon Hum, which is a driving performance tracker aimed at parents.

Even Buick has created “smart driver” technology standard in most vehicles.

Christine Sitek from GM’s OnStar says the smart driver system not only helps improve driving, it can save users money. The company said they have a million customers enrolled today.

“If you’re feeling good about your score, you can opt-in to seek an opportunity to get an insurance discount,” Sitek said. “We’re seeing that those customers are receiving up to a 30 percent discount on their insurance.”

The apps attempt to make driving a game by showing how drivers rank against each other. Buick believes its software will improve safety especially when coupled with technology like collision avoidance and lane departure warnings.

  • Kris Van Cleave

    Kris Van Cleave was appointed CBS News Transportation Correspondent in September 2015 and is based in Washington, D.C.