London Times article with Alltrack USAMr Jacobson and Son using Alltrack USA product
Slow down, you kids
Worried parents can now keep tabs on their children’s driving with a hi-tech whistleblower, reports Joe Lauria of The Sunday Times
RIGHT: Photo of John Jacobson with his son Joey, whose every move in the car is tracked.
Nearly every weekday at about 2.30pm John Jacobson logs on to his computer, types in his password and views a map that shows him where his son’s car is and how fast he’s driving. Usually the teenager is just a few blocks away, somewhere between school and home in the city of Olathe, Kansas.
For years Jacobson used a global positioning system at his trucking company to check how fast his drivers were travelling and where they were. Such monitoring is now commonplace in the American haulage business.
But his teenage son’s driving made him fret. Joey Jacobson had passed his test at 16 — a year younger than the minimum age in Britain — and wanted straightaway to take advantage of his new freedom. That included meeting friends at their houses, cruising the strip and possibly getting into trouble.
“The night that teenagers go out by themselves is one of the scariest nights of your life,” Jacobson says. “We’ve got 1,200 trucks running around the country and we’re using GPS, so I said to myself, ‘If we can have this on the trucks, why can’t we have it on the car?’ “In order for my wife and I to sit down on a Friday night and have a couple of glasses of wine and have her not asking me 15 times in an hour, ‘I wonder where Joey is,’ I decided to search through the internet, and I found it.”
What Jacobson found was a device sold by a company called Alltrack USA, based in Smyrna, Georgia. It is placed behind the dashboard and connects to the car’s vital mechanisms. It can notify the user via mobile phone, e-mail, PDA or pager when their child arrives at school, or any other destination, and when they exceed a predetermined speed limit.
With a click of the mouse Jacobson can control equipment on the car, including the door locks, the engine (which can be immobilised to prevent the car being driven away) and the horn. It can even be wired up to turn on an interior light to signal Joey to return home.
“One Saturday I got a call and the automated attendant told me that the car was running at 75mph,” says Jacobson. “So I called him on his cellphone and told him, ‘Slow that damned car down.’ This is a kid who has an answer for everything. But there was a long pause. Then he said, ‘Yes, sir’.”
Peace of mind about Joey’s driving came at a price for Jacobson. He paid $425 (£220) up front and has monthly charges of up to $66 (about £34.50), depending on how often he uses the service. He has it set up for his mobile to ring when Joey exceeds 70mph.
Joey has become accustomed to the fact that his father always knows where he is. “I really don’t think about it that often,” he says. “It’s not like I’m going anywhere I shouldn’t be.”
He admits to being annoyed that his father can see how fast he is driving but concedes that “it’s still better than being reckless and out of control”.
In Britain similar tracker devices are used by fleet operators and by garages that want to keep an eye on their test cars. It is only a matter of time before they are adapted for domestic use, manufacturers predict.
MetaSAT, made by Meta System UK, is a black box with a SIM card and is controlled via a mobile phone. The operator can program the system so that if the car exceeds a certain speed the owner is warned via a text message. The car’s location can be found by asking the system for the coordinates and then checking them online.
Mark Allbaugh, owner of Alltrack USA, said he has sold hundreds of tracking devices since he founded the company two years ago. Several other companies, with names such as TravelEyes2, SmartDriver and RS-1000 Teen Driving System, offer similar services, although Alltrack is the only one that allows the user to disable the car.
Allbaugh says a mother stationed with US forces in Iraq logged on to the Alltrack website to discover her daughter at home was breaking the curfew her parents had imposed. The mother was able to immobilise the car.
Predictably, perhaps, some customers have found other uses for the device. Biaggio Curatolo, of New Jersey, says: “I’m 65, my wife is 25 years younger than me and she looks 17. That’s why I wanted the device. It’s working like a charm.”
But there are objections to such systems being used without drivers’ knowledge or permission. Raymon Holmberg, a North Dakota politician, believes his privacy has been violated because he was not told his new car came equipped with a black box.
Many American cars now come with devices that record speed and seatbelt use to protect manufacturers from blame for injuries that are not the result of design or equipment failures. Holmberg has sponsored a state bill that would require car buyers to be told if their vehicles were equipped with a black box. Subscription services such as Alltrack would be exempt.
So far, only California has a law that requires dealers and hire companies to inform drivers when a car has a black box. New York state has made it illegal for hire companies to use GPS to track their cars.
April 24, 2005
Times Newspapers Ltd.
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