Automatic launches a ‘driver’s ed’ mode that will evaluate your kid’s highway skills

Ever since I’ve written about Automatic Labs plug-in car device, I’ve heard a common refrain “This would be great for keeping track of my kid when he’s behind the wheel.” Automatic’s on-board diagnostic module doesn’t just track where a vehicle goes, it monitors how fast it accelerates from a full stop and notes whenever you slam on the brakes – important information if you’re a parent worried about how your 16-year-old behaves when he or she pulls out of the driveway.

Well, Automatic has decided to latch on to that collective parental angst with a new feature on its iOS and Android apps called License+ launched on Monday. While it doesn’t replace Automatic’s regular monitoring and emergency features (if you just wanted to see how often your kid cracks 70 mph, that feature is already there) it does set up a kind of driver evaluation program that sets goals for new drivers and lets parents track and coach their offspring when they first get their licenses.

Automatic's new License+ feature on the iPhone (source: Automatic Labs)

Automatic’s new License+ feature on the iPhone (source: Automatic Labs)

The program lasts 100 hours, during which time a student is supposed to achieve several predefined goals that are evaluated by his or her parent/coach. For instance, one goal is to drive 50 miles on the highway, while another is to drive at night for 10 hours with your coach in the passenger seat. It also tracks whether the student is out after curfew.

Automatic then analyzes the student’s performance during that period – factoring in things like hard braking, aggressive acceleration or breaking the speed limit – and rates that performance with a gold, silver or bronze medal.

License+ product lead Steve Bishop said Automatic wanted to create a much less confrontational environment for parents and teenagers using the Automatic Link in their cars. Instead of creating a scenario where a new driver feels he or she is always being watched by a virtual backseat driver who criticizes every tap of the brake pedal or turn of the wheel, License+ creates a program that can measure general behavior, instead of specific actions, over a set evaluation period, Bishop said.

Translation: Automatic hopes License+ will help prevent some of the nastier screaming matches between protective parents and teenagers trying to assert their independence.

The Automatic Link plugs into the OBD-II port or your car and communicates with your phone over Bluetooth (source: Automatic Labs)

The Automatic Link plugs into the OBD-II port or your car and communicates with your phone over Bluetooth (source: Automatic Labs)

It’s definitely a great idea, though there are some limitations the what License+ can track. It won’t, for instance, note if your kid runs a red light or signals before changing lanes while in traffic, which are both pretty good indications of irresponsible driver behavior.

Bishop said that this is just the first release of the program, and Automatic will add more goals and features to the app. By delving deeper into the control access network of the car, there’s a lot more that Automatic can tell you about what you’re kids are doing in the car. I just wouldn’t count on Automatic alerting you when your daughter is making out with her boyfriend in backseat.