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If you've ever wondered - and worried - about your teen's driving style, here's a simple affordable way of getting some actual information.

The unit is simple, easy to understand, easy to install, and has no ongoing monitoring cost.

 
 
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Lemur SafeDriver Review part 1

What the system is, what it does, how and why
 

The keyfob sized SafeDriver receiver tells you the maximum speed reached, the distance driven, and the number of hard/sharp braking events, allowing you to understand if the person driving your car is driving carefully or not.

Part 1 of a two part series on the Lemur SafeDriver system.  See part 2 for a report on using the SafeDriver and trying to break its security and cheat on its monitoring.

 

 

Here's a simple and low cost device you can use to monitor how people you lend your car to are driving.

A tamper-revealing system tracks the way the vehicle is driven, and you can see the results on a keyfob sized unit any time you wish to check.

It isn't a 100% monitoring solution, but neither is it a multi-hundred dollar device.  It is a quick, simple, easy to install and easy to use device that gives a good basic level of understanding about how your teenager (or anyone else) is driving.

It has a recommended retail price of $69.95 and is available from Amazon, currently  for $56.13.  There are no ongoing monthly costs.

A great little gadget, either for yourself or anyone else with teenage drivers.

An Explanatory Introduction about OBDII and how the SafeDriver Works

All vehicles from 1996 (and a few slightly earlier models) not only have a computer that both controls and monitors many engine functions, but also are required by law to have a standardized type of output port and somewhat standard type of data stream, to make it possible for external devices to connect to the car's computer and access the data being monitored.

This standard port and data stream is referred to as the On-Board Diagnostics 2 Standard (or OBD-II).

A growing number of devices can connect to this data stream, which reports on dozens of variables and which can also provide some hundreds of engine fault codes (including descriptions to explain why the mysterious 'check engine light' on your dashboard illuminates).

See our review of the ScanGauge II for more information on the OBD-II capabilities in general, and how they are cleverly reported on by the ScanGauge II unit.

The SafeDriver represents a very clever adaptation of the capabilities of the OBD-II data, by displaying three selected data measures, and by including a temper-evident feature that makes it impossible for monitored drivers to 'cheat the system' and avoid being monitored.

Lemur Vehicle Monitor Products

Lemur is a relatively new company (founded in 2006) and based in Newfoundland, Canada.  They released a family of three different vehicle monitoring products in 2010, all relying on a similar concept of a plug-in sensor/transmitter that connects to your vehicle's OBD-II port and a remote receiver in the style of a key fob.

In addition to the SafeDriver unit, they offer a unit which monitors your speed and gives an annoying beep if you're going too fast (AlertDriver), and a unit which evaluates your driving in terms of fuel economy and which also provides interesting 'gas cost per trip' data (EconoDriver).

Full details of their product range can be found on their website.

The Lemur SafeDriver - What You Get

The SafeDriver is packaged in a shelf-hangar type blister pack that is moderately difficult to open.

Inside the pack are two units - one the vehicle sensor and the other the remote receiver, and a two sided sheet of instructions.

The sensor/transmitter unit is a small black box (quite literally - see the picture at the top of the second page of this two part review) that plugs into the vehicle's OBD II port.  It measures about 1.8" x 1" x 2.4" and takes the power it needs to operate from the vehicle itself.

The remote/receiver is about 1.7" x 0.6" x 2.3" and weighs 1.2 oz (pictured at the top of the article).  It has a hole at the top through which it is suggested you can thread your vehicle's ignition key.  The receiver unit has a large LCD display on it and three bright red buttons.  It is supplied complete with a CR-2450 type battery.  The manufacturer says the battery lasts about a year; there is no 'low battery' indicator, but the display dims and flickers when the battery is on its last legs.  Replacement batteries are inexpensive ($1 - $5 depending on source) and readily available.

The instructions are simple, well written in good English and easy to read, but they make more sense in terms of understanding if you actually follow along with them and do the things they describe.

The unit comes complete with a non-transferable one year limited warranty that requires you to show original proof of purchase to quality.

Installing the SafeDriver

Installing the unit was very simple and straightforward, and exactly as the instructions anticipated and explained.

Perhaps the only small challenge that some people might have is finding their OBD-II port.  In my case, it was exactly as shown in the illustration in the instructions, and other cars I've looked at have generally had an easy to locate port as well.

What does the port look like?  That is easy to answer.  It looks like the opposite/mate to the plug on the end of the SafeDriver's sensor/transmitter unit.  So just look to find a plug that this can fit into (and remember that it will only fit in one way - be sure to plug it in the right way around) and that is it.  There are no other connectors you're likely to find anywhere around your driver's position area that would also fit the SafeDriver's plug.

When I first synchronized the transmitter and receiver I got a fail message, but that too was anticipated in the instructions, so I simply re-synchronized (as they suggest) and the second time around, I received a Pass message and all was well.

My guess is that the unit tries to auto-sense the exact OBD-II protocol being used by the vehicle, and if it gets it wrong the first time, you get the fail, and so by trying a second time, the unit tries a different protocol and succeeds.  So there's no reason to be alarmed at seeing a fail message the first time.

What the SafeDriver Monitors (and How)

The SafeDriver unit monitors and displays three different data values on its fob/receiver.

The first value is 'maximum speed reached'.  This can be shown in your choice of miles per hour or km/hr.  It simply shows the highest speed briefly reached since the unit was last reset, and takes this value from the continually updated OBD-II data stream.

The second value shown is 'miles (kilometers) driven'.  This shows the total miles traveled since the unit was last reset.  As such, it is the same as the trip odometer in the vehicle, and again takes its value direct from the OBD-II data stream.

The third value is a calculated value intended to show the number of times the vehicle has had a hard braking event since the last reset.  A hard braking event is defined as being any time the vehicle slows down by 15 mph or more in two seconds or less, and the unit calculates this by plotting the vehicle's ongoing speed changes against a two second window of time.

The unit can also show two other relevant values.  The first is a 'Tamper' warning in case your monitored driver has tried to cheat the system (eg by disconnecting the sensor/transmitter, or by removing the battery from the fob/receiver) and the second shows the number of times the unit has been reset (again an indicator of possible cheating, but because you also need to enter a passcode before the unit will reset, it is unlikely someone will be able to reset the unit.

The Validity of the SafeDriver Data

It is appropriate to prefix these comments with the observation that the SafeDriver is not intended to be a complete vehicle monitoring solution.  Very much more comples systems for vehicle logging and/or tracking exist that offer very much more sophisticated monitoring.

But whereas these other systems can cost hundreds of dollars to purchase, hundreds of dollars more to install, and then run you up an ongoing monthly bill of $30 - $50 for real-time monitoring, the SafeDriver costs a mere $70 (or $56 through Amazon), can be installed yourself in no more than a minute or two, and has no ongoing monthly costs.

So it is not appropriate to compare the SafeDriver to these more sophisticated units.  Be aware they exist, should you be in a 'higher risk' scenario and want to know, real-time, exactly where your vehicle is and how fast it is traveling.

The prime use and purpose of the SafeDriver

We see the value of the SafeDriver primarily as a visible deterrent than as an after-the-fact tell-tale.  For example, a teenage driver being pressured by his friends to drive faster could (hopefully!) say 'Sorry, but my parents have installed a SafeDriver, and if I go over the limit, they'll know about it and ground me'.

And even if driving by him/herself, the driver will be aware of the unit and so will be more sensitive to driving safely and sanely.  And surely that is the ultimate objective of the system - not so much to detect and report bad driving, but rather to encourage good driving.

The validity of the data reported

With these initial comments now out of the way, how useful is the data the SafeDriver reports on, in terms of understanding how the vehicle is being driven?

  • Maximum speed

The first data point - maximum speed reached - is of limited value.  A driver who roars down the 25 mph surface streets at 50 mph, then gets on the 60 mph freeway and now drives sedately at the same 50 mph will get back home with no indication that the 50 mph was not only on the freeway but on the surface streets too.

Even if your teen is banned from freeway driving, the chances are still that he may be driving on some roads with a 15 mph school zone restriction activated, on others with variously a 25, 30 or 35 mph limit, and maybe on some with a 40 mph or 45 mph limit.  Most teens will quickly realize that the SafeDriver simply means that they can drive everywhere at speeds up to the maximum speed that exists anywhere, even if some areas have much slower limits, without drawing attention to themselves going over the limit on the SafeDriver report.

  • Total miles traveled

The second of the three data points being reported - total miles traveled - can as easily be read off the vehicle's odometer.  This seems like a disappointing choice of data series for the SafeDriver to report on, because it is conveniently available for everyone to see in the vehicle already.

On the other hand, this helps increase the unit's 'tamper-evident' nature.  A stealthy reset of the unit is more likely to be detected immediately by observing an inconsistent value for miles traveled.

  • Sudden Brakings

The third data point - number of sudden brakings - is an interesting one.  My sense is that it is possible to do quite a bit of wild and crazy driving, including a fair amount of heavy braking, without triggering these alerts.

The 'trick' to avoid triggering one of these alerts is not to drop more than 15 mph at a time, and from driving around town in 'test' mode I was surprised how seldom I could create moderately crazy driving scenarios that required hard decelerations of more than 15 mph.

On the other hand, there were a number of hard braking events that involved losing less than 15 mph which went undetected - for example, a sudden slamming on of the brakes to slow down when a police car suddenly appeared and turned its radar gun on to measure my speed!  I guess I quickly dropped 10 mph or so but there was no braking event triggered by the SafeDriver.

Other data series that might also be useful

The unit makes a somewhat fair approximation of reporting on sudden hard braking.  But it is totally silent on sudden hard accelerations.  Why not have it also report any time the gas pedal is more than 90% depressed for more than a second or two?  As best I can dimly remember, my own very bad teenage driving was at least as much full throttle acceleration as it was violent braking.

And rather than simply testing for rolling two second periods with a 15 mph speed reduction, might not testing a rolling one second period with a 7.5 mph speed reduction actually give a finer tuned set of results?  That would have detected many more of my own 'bad driving' actions.

How about adding an accelerometer that could then report, in a single data display, on rapid acceleration, rapid braking, and also - major bonus here - hard cornering too.  Accelerometers these days are tiny and inexpensive, and a single report showing significant acceleration/deceleration events either speeding up, slowing down, or going round corners (excessive cornering speeds were another common bad driving event in my youth) would be very relevant to understanding the driving style in use.

But, after volunteering this suggestions for a more sophisticated monitoring device, it is fair to return back to my earlier comment.  The SafeDriver is not intended to be a complete comprehensive monitor of everything, and if it were, it would probably overwhelm everyone with too much data, and cost much more.  It provides a simple set of data points to give an approximation of driving style.

Part 1 of a two part series on the Lemur SafeDriver system.

Please click on to part 2 for a report on using the SafeDriver and trying to break its security and cheat on its monitoring.

 

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Originally published 30 Aug 2010, last update 28 May 2011

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.

 
 
 
 

 


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