DALLAS - Plano, Texas, mom Erin Henochowicz was driving down the street last year when she spotted a commercial vehicle with a bumper sticker that read ‘‘How’s My Driving?’’
The idea hit her. Her soon-to-be-16-year-old son, Robert, was about to get his license. Wouldn’t it be great if other drivers knew he was a beginner and could let her know how he was doing?
She took her idea to her friend Kristi Broekhove, who also had a soon-to-be teen driver, Daniel. They developed ReportMyTeen.com. The service monitors teen driving through a hotline number printed on bumper stickers.
Concerned motorists can phone in their complaints on the hotline. Henochowicz is a co-founder of OPC Marketing, which makes call-center software, so the idea was a natural fit.
The moms say it is critical to have those extra eyes in the first two years of teen driving, when a maturity and sense of responsibility haven’t fully set in.
‘‘We both have boys, Erin five of them and me two. Boys are the risk-takers,’’ says Broekhove.
When you factor in cell phones, iPods, peer pressure and the fact that teenagers generally tend to operate in the fast lane, Henochowicz says the hotline will help parents sleep better at night. Just knowing they’re being monitored makes teens concentrate more on safety issues when they get behind the wheel, she says.
Broekhove, a trauma nurse who has seen her share of injuries from car crashes, cites the following statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration: Auto crashes are the leading cause of death among 16- to 18-year-olds, and one out of four teens will have a crash in their first year of driving.
It has already changed the driving habits of Broekhove’s older son, Daniel, 17, who was reported in his first two weeks of driving with the sticker. He admits that having the sticker on his car has made him slow down and pay closer attention.
Daniel’s first vehicle was a pickup that came with the distinctive black-and-yellowstriped border bumper sticker. The high school senior has been reported through the hotline three times in the seven months he’s been driving, but has had no crashes and no tickets.
He dismisses one report as a ‘‘sketchy call from a little old lady’’ who complained that he cut her off and took off at high speed. He says it did not happen that way.
In another call, Daniel says he was on his way to the lake one evening and running late. In the audio report that can be heard online, the driver is heard complaining about Daniel’s weaving in and out of traffic. After the incident, he received a warning from his parents and committed to cleaning up his act.
It isn’t about busting teenagers; it’s about playing it safe, the moms say. Their biggest customer base is nervous parents of younger teens who haven’t started driving yet. Parents of older teens are sometimes in denial, Henochowicz says.
‘‘Parents who initially said no because they thought their teen didn’t need to be monitored have come back and signed up,’’ Henochowicz says, recalling one dad who requested a bumper sticker after his son was handed an expensive ticket.
The two moms say they’ve gotten good response from teens — especially their own.
Daniel has received some ribbing from his classmates, but that’s died down. Robert’s friends are warming up to the idea so much that some have asked to buy stock in the company.
Robert’s brother Stephen, 16, is a new licensee who learned his lesson six
months ago after he was caught power-sliding with the brakes (continuously pulling the emergency hand brake) to make his car do a fishtail.
His parents immediately took away the new car, sold it and stripped him of driving privileges for four months. He’s back on track now and driving a safe, smart-looking blue Hyundai sedan. His only complaint is that the bumper sticker doesn’t match his car.