As a parent, you could assume that your teens have taken all of your lectures about the ills of distracted driving to heart. Or you could turn to a growing number of apps designed to let you know exactly what your teens are doing behind the wheel.
Canary (for iPhone and Android) is one. It is installed on a teen's phone, and parents will be alerted whenever their sons and daughters are texting, tweeting or using Facebook while they are driving.
Canary can also be set to send an alert when a designated maximum speed is exceeded. The app can be set up to provide daily or weekly reports.
For seriously hard-core tracking, the mSpy software app will "run in an invisible mode providing you with across-the-board logging features so that you can remotely track all activity that takes place on the monitored phone."
The mSpy app runs on iPhone, Android, BlackBerry, Symbian, iPad, Galaxy Tab.
The MamaBear Child Tracker app (iPhone, Android) offers some functions similar to Canary, allowing parents to "monitor your child’s driving and know when they speed! Driving alerts notify you if they go over a speed limit you set."
Rapid Protect (iPhone, Android and soon to be Blackberry friendly) offers a variety of apps that include driver safety tools: "If a user is driving over certain preset speed, their ability to send and receive text message is blocked."
Mobiflock (Android) "allows parents to block the use of certain apps and even shut down cell-phone functionality remotely." The app also "allows user to block mobile apps or put them on a timetable for when they can be used."
But with the possible exception of mSpy, the apps backers tend to suggest that parents first talk to their teens about the apps rather than simply install them without prior warning.
Some suggest making the app a condition of getting the smartphone, and point out that teens should be told that parental behavior behind the wheel can be monitored with the same apps just as easily.
"I don't promote this as spyware at all," said Jani Spede, chief executive of the Canary Project. "My vision is that an entire family can use this. It's a way for everyone to have more awareness. You measure behavior and then you can change it and improve it."
Spede added, "Parents can be some of the worst offenders" in terms of distracted driving. "I've seen statistics about new mothers texting or checking emails while driving with their babies in the car."
The apps range from free (for MamaBear) to as much as $49 a month for home use (for mSpy.)
Canary is free for the first seven days. Sign up within that period and there is a one-time charge of $9.99 for Canary. The one-time charge is $14.99 after the seven-day free period.