Auto Electronics

Wireless Technology Saves Lives

Reducing risk is a goal of every insurance company, so when American Family Insurance was approached with a new concept from DriveCam that promised to improve teen driving safety, it listened. The in-car technology — an event recorder with two cameras, an accelerometer and a motion sensor — was able to recognize unusual forces and automatically record high-risk driving events. The insurer recognized this as a loss-prevention tool that could reduce the frequency and severity of claims among its insured teens.

Teens are the highest risk accident demographic in the industry. They are nine times more likely to get in a car crash than an adult. In fact, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for teens in the United States, accounting for 41 percent of teen fatalities — resulting in more teen deaths than the next four causes combined.

It's a known fact that when parents can see how their teen is driving and talk to them about it, teens change their driving behavior. But the challenge has always been getting that “drivers-eye” view. So in 2006, American Family launched The Teen Safe Driver Program at two Midwest high schools, using the schools' Wi-Fi coverage to upload the data when a participating student's car was in the school parking lot.

While the pilot proved the technology's value, it didn't demonstrate the scalability and robustness to handle efficient data download given the large video files. American Family saw huge value in being able to cost-effectively scale and automate the process. DriveCam also realized the need for better and more accessible data download as its Driver Risk Management program was quickly reaching 80,000 vehicles across a wide variety of fleets.

3G cellular access was the enabling technology. The DriveCam system demanded a wireless network that could transfer large video clips across a homogeneous network and deliver that data to DriveCam reviewers and to policyholder parents.

Sierra Wireless was selected as a partner to develop the modem due to its market leadership for 3G embedded modules and the expertise required to assist DriveCam in delivering its video recorder solution to the market.

In March 2007, an expanded pilot was launched using new event recorders equipped with Sierra Wireless EV-DO Rev. A PC cards. These cards enabled DriveCam to create real-time assessment of critical events through cellular upload which, ultimately, reduced upload and service time. They also included firmware that controlled when driving data was uploaded to the DriveCam review center where behavior analysts scored the teens based on their actions and reactions. Parents could then view the summary data and events on a secure Web site within one business day. The Sprint nationwide cellular network was selected because of its ubiquitous EV-DO coverage and, in part, because Sprint was responsive to DriveCam's commitment to a 1:00 a.m. to 5:00 a.m. upload regimen, which took advantage of the underutilized overnight bandwidth. The resulting airtime cost efficiencies allowed American Family to offer the devices at no charge, with lower insurance losses essentially footing the bill.

By August 2007, the teen driver program was up and running in eight states with more than 1,400 families on board. By 2008, American Family had expanded the program to its entire 18-state region. With more than 5-million miles driven, American Family has seen far fewer accidents among program users than among the general teen driving population. On average, the Teen Safe Driver Program has reduced at-fault crashes by more than 65 percent. DriveCam has seen similar improvements in nearly 100,000 vehicles using the service — long-haul and short-haul trucks, concrete mixers, transit and paratransit buses, taxicabs and limousines, waste haulers and more. The wireless technology is particularly effective for those fleets that do not return to a home base each night since their events can be downloaded every evening, no matter where they are located.


Peter Ellegaard is DriveCam's vice president of hardware and firmware engineering. He has 16 years of experience in electronics engineering. The majority of his career was spent at Nokia where he was involved with hardware development, engine integration, hardware and software management, product development and technology management.

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