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Camera co-pilots give glimpse of teen driving

Seventeen-year-old Bradley Antonio was indignant when his parents put safety cameras in the family car recently.

"I can't believe that you're doing this to me ... I'm a good driver ... You don't trust me," the high school student protested, according to his mom, Laura Antonio.

And the worst humiliation: "All my friends will think it's stupid," he said.

Two days after Bradley got the camera co-pilot, it captured his first accident.

"It was very scary to come home after he called me and to look at the accident on the Web site," his mom said of the pioneering auto insurance service that allows parents to review audio-video of their children's driving at www.teensafedriver.com.

Still, she added, "It was very reassuring for me to see that he was not doing anything wrong prior to the accident."

While the accident is still being reviewed by insurers, the mother said, it appears both drivers "just didn't see each other and hit."

The video also allowed her son to review the 10 seconds the cameras capture before or after sensors detect sudden braking, abrupt acceleration, swerving or a collision.

"He's a good driver but seeing what he saw (in the accident video) he knows that he still needs to work harder ... to be a better driver," Bradley's mom said.

That's the point of the Teen Safe Driver Program, which American Family Insurance, a company based out of Madison, Wis., began offering to customers with teenage drivers Aug. 1. The service, which is free for the first year a teen drives, is provided in eight states.

Vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for teens, accounting for 41 percent of fatalities, according to American Family Insurance.

"The percentage of kids who buckle up without the camera is 40 percent," said Tom Walker, an agent for American Family Insurance.

"Once the camera goes in the car, their buckle-up rate is 100 percent. Because kids know if mom and dad see a video of me and I don't have my seatbelt on, I'm busted."

Young drivers need not worry about the camera recording, say, romantic encounters.

Walker said the camera only records the first 10 seconds before and after a sudden "g-force event." Routine driving is recorded over.

"You couldn't see Johnny kissing a girl, unless he hit a post when he was doing it," Walker said.

All driving incidents are wirelessly relayed to DriveCam Inc., where they are reviewed by analysts who post the video and a written report, including safe driving tips, online.

Only parents can access them using a secure password.

"It's a great teaching tool for parents to see how their teen is actually driving and then talk to them about it," Walker said.

Of course, cameras documenting collisions or reckless driving could be subpoenaed as evidence in an accident lawsuit or criminal investigation, Walker acknowledged.

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