By DAVID THOME
Special to ADAMM
Car crashes kill more young people than cancer, homicide and suicide combined, so parents have good reason to worry when teens use the family car. Carmakers are increasingly addressing that concern with computerized systems that let parents monitor teen drivers and set controls to reduce risk factors like speed, texting while driving and ignoring the seat belts.
“It’s a great idea,” said Steve Puleo, sales rep for EVS Saukville Chevrolet Buick Cadillac. “If my parents knew back in the day what I was doing with their car…”
Kip Ruppel, sales manager for GRIFFIN Ford of Waukesha, and Redus Harris, product specialist for MIKE JUNEAU’S Arrow Ford of West Allis, added that the features, which generally operate through a vehicle’s infotainment system, are not simply tattling devices, but also actively help young drivers develop good habits.
According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the fatal crash rate per mile for 16- to 19-year-olds is three times higher than for drivers 20 and older. Inexperience, using phones and travelling at excessive speed—and various combinations thereof—are among the most common contributing factors.
In-vehicle computers can’t do much to combat inexperience, so teen safety systems introduced over the past few years focus on limiting speed and phone use in hopes of keeping drivers safe while they’re gaining experience.
Ford introduced MyKey, which the website Autoevolution.com describes as “a remote babysitter for children while they are behind the wheel,” in 2008. Ruppel said parents can program MyKey to establish a top speed limit, sound a chime when the vehicle reaches certain speeds, activate a warning bell that stays on until every passenger is buckled in, cap the sound system’s volume and make it impossible to deactivate safety systems like traction control.
“When you take delivery, you get two keys, and one of them is a MyKey,” Ruppel explained. “It comes on most models, but lots of parents don’t seem to know it’s there until the sales rep explains it to them after they’ve bought the vehicle. Once they have it, they find it very useful.”
MyKey is understandably popular among parents: A Harris Interactive Survey found that 75% like the speed-limiting feature, 72% like the persistent safety-belt reminder and 63% the audio limit feature. And kids? About two thirds of them said they don’t object, saying that it gives them “more freedom to drive.”
Hyundai first made its Vehicle Safeguards Alerts In-Vehicle App available to owners who subscribe dto the Blue Link infotainment, service monitoring and safety suite in 2015. Harris said that few buyers seem to be aware of how the system works—or even that it exists—but sales reps do mention it if it’s clear that young drivers will be using the vehicle.
“When they ask, we show them how to use it,” he said. “It comes as part of their Blue Link subscription.”
The apps sends texts, emails or automated phone messages to parents if parameters they’ve set up are violated. On its website, Hyundai says “the brilliance of this app is that these alerts also can be seen inside the vehicle,” which means that teen drivers can make adjustments and “refocus on driving safely” while still on the road.
In addition to setting speed limit warnings, Hyundai’s system alerts parents if teens stay out after a curfew, drive beyond designated boundaries or hit the key fob’s panic button.
Chevrolet’s Teen Driver program mutes the car radio or any device paired with the vehicle if front seat occupants are unbuckled and gives audible and visual warnings when the vehicle is traveling faster than preset speeds. Furthermore, parents can check a display in the vehicle to see how fast and how far a teen drove, how often safety features such as antilock brakes, stability control and forward collision braking were activated, and how many times the car issued forward collision warnings.
“We developed this system so parents could use it as a teaching tool with their kids, to discuss and reinforce safe driving habits,” said General Motors safety engineer MaryAnn Beebe. “As a mother of two, I know anything that has the potential of keeping one’s family safer is of great value to parents.”
AutomotiveNews.com says safety features that can be turned off — stability control, forward collision alert, daytime running lights, automatic light control, forward collision braking, traction control and front pedestrian braking—are automatically turned on and stay on when Teen Driver is activated.
Teen Driver also automatically activates front and rear park assist, side blind zone alert and rear cross traffic alert, which are designed to help drivers avoid backing into traffic or hitting pedestrians in driveways and parking lots.
Teen Driver, which made its debut this year, is standard on the Malibu Premier and optional on the LT. Puleo said it’s built into the MyLink connectivity system, and the teen driver “report card” can be viewed on the in-dash screen.
“Most customers don’t know much about Teen Driver, but that’ll change as it starts to appear on more and more models,” Puleo said.
Some other manufacturers, including Mercedes-Benz, have introduced their own teen driver safety programs. Some are standard, others are available as a la carte options or with option packages and some may require subscriptions to online services.