High-Tech Autos Help Protect Teen Drivers

Teen Driver

Few words can strike terror into the heart of a teen parent like: “I got my driver’s license!”

As the parent of two teens, I was glued to a news report from the Los Angeles Auto Show last week that highlighted advances in automotive technology specifically targeted at young drivers.

The report mentioned a feature from Hyundai Motors that enables a vehicle to send text messages to parents if a teen is driving too fast or drives outside of a preset geographical boundary.

It turns out this has a lot of business potential. According to a US News & World Report there are approximately 9,953,935 teen drivers in the United States alone. Add in figures for other countries and you end up with a huge market opportunity for teen driver technologies, rewarding auto manufacturers and creating a win-win for everyone.

Ford was one of the first automakers to embrace technology aimed at increasing the safety of teen drivers. Ford’s MyKey debuted as a standard feature on the 2010 Ford Focus and is now a no-cost feature on nearly all Ford and Lincoln models.

MyKey utilizes a computer chip in the key to enable parents to limit teen drivers to 80 mph. Parents also have the option of having the car sound a chime if teens exceed 45, 55 or 65 mph. In addition to speed limits, MyKey will limit the volume of the audio system, and it will sound a six-second chime every minute if seat belts are not fastened. The “no belts, no tunes” feature mutes the audio system until front occupants buckle up.

First in the industry to address the challenges posed by distracted driving, Ford added a feature to its MyKey technology to block incoming phone calls and deter text messaging while teens are behind the wheel. The Do Not Disturb feature, first introduced in select 2011 vehicles, became available as a feature parents can control through MyKey in early 2012.

Hyundai Motor America offers the Hyundai Blue Link system on all Hyundai models. Blue Link provides three teen focused safety features—Geo-fence, Curfew Alert and Speed Alert—that allow parents to define and set specific parameters for geographical boundaries, curfew times and speed limits. When any parameter is exceeded, parents are notified via text, email or phone message.

Similarly, General Motors offers Family Link, an optional add-on service to its popular OnStar System. Family Link allows parents to see exactly where their teen drivers are. Parents can opt to have the system email or text the car’s location to them at set intervals.

But technology alone isn’t going to keep kids safe.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website promotes the “Parents Are the Key to Safe Teen Drivers” program to increase parent involvement in establishing safe driving habits for teens. The program offers tools and resources including the parent-teen driving agreement, a contract designed to document a teen’s commitment to observed safe driving rules.

The Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS) advocates strengthening of graduated driver licensing laws focused on five key areas: permit age, practice driving hours, license age, night driving, and passenger restrictions to reduce the number of teen auto crashes. Interestingly, neither the CDC nor the IIHS mention any of the automotive technologies discussed above.

As a parent of teens, I’m open to all the tools and resources available to help keep teen drivers safe. The best approach is a hybrid that combines the use of technology with parental involvement and guidelines, education and strong licensing laws.

Today’s teens are more technologically savvy than any previous generation. While it’s doubtful they will welcome auto monitoring features, if given a choice between being monitored or not driving, technology will win out.

What do you think? Should the family vehicle help keep your teen driver safe by using technology to promote safe driving habits and notify parents of safety violations? Or do you view this technology as intrusive and feel that parental guidance and fear of losing driving privileges is incentive enough for today’s teens?

Photo: Teen Driver, State Farm Photo Steam on Flickr (CC By 2.0)

About Anita Berryman

Global Corporate Communications at PTC. Spends long daily commute solving the probelms of the world and the challenges of parenting teens.
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One Response to High-Tech Autos Help Protect Teen Drivers

  1. Frank Martz says:

    It would be nice if these auto makers could somehow invent something to STOP these teens (and adults) from texting or using their cell while driving! We have local laws here in our city – but no one seems to follow the rules these days! Perhaps some type of signal blocker to prevent the signal from going out while in the car, or something to that effect.

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