Safe Behind the Wheel: Teens and Driving Technology

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Technology in our vehicles is making the drive safer for us. Think of anti-lock braking systems, air bags, seat belts, rear-view and side-view mirrors and more that’s designed to help you handle operating on the road. In addition to safety features that can be standard on many auto lines, some manufacturers design specific programs for their vehicles to help you guide and monitor the driving habits of your teen driver. But the most important tool you can employ with your inexperienced motorist is communication.

“It’s important to discuss with new drivers how the use of technology isn’t meant to replace the motorist but to help them build a better skill set for safe driving,” noted Bruce McWilliams, a consultant for auto dealerships. “To help the teens develop better habits and lessen the parents’ reservations, I suggest parents spend considerable time in the car with their new drivers, at least until the parent relaxes and stops using the imaginary brakes and loosens the grip on the arm rest before they allow them to drive on their own. Also, parents and teens should have in-depth discussions about the privileges of driving a vehicle and the importance of being attentive at all times.”

This conversation is one that must happen with your new driver before she gets behind the wheel because driving and teens can create deadly results. According to the Car Buying Strategies website, in 2010, 33 percent of deaths among teens between the ages of 13 and 19 were due to severe car crashes. When a teen is driving between the hours of 9:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m., he is 40 percent more likely to be involved in a car accident. The primary factors in teen car accident fatalities are speed and distractions. The age at which teens are more likely to be in a vehicle crash is 16, when many are just getting their first taste of driving.

But technology can give parents data and control in many newer-model vehicles with built-in driver assistance safety features. Many come as standard equipment. Others can be added depending on your make and model.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a number of today’s new motor vehicles have lane-maintenance alerts that help drivers avoid drifting into adjacent lanes or making unsafe lane changes. Some warn drivers of other vehicles behind them when they are backing up. Automatic braking systems gauge if the speed of the vehicle is greater than the speed of objects in front of it or if the object stops or slows suddenly. Blind spot threat detection notifies motorists when nearby vehicles are making lane changes. These and other safety technologies use a combination of hardware, such as sensors, cameras and radar, and software to help vehicles identify certain safety risks so they can warn the driver to take action and avoid a crash. Any driver can benefit from this type of technology, especially those who are young and inexperienced.

In the future, automakers will feature standard advanced driver assistance technology focused on new drivers. Some vehicles already have smart key fobs and other elements limiting speed and blocking certain electronic distractions such as cell phones.

If your child is driving an older model or a hand-me-down that may not offer these new safety features, parents do have some impressive third-party apps and plug-in devices that can work with these vehicles to help keep teens safe and discourage dangerous driving. Check with your insurance agent. Some companies offer customers in-vehicle monitoring and feedback devices for new teen drivers. Some smartphone apps enable parents to monitor their teen’s driving and be alerted if he or she drives faster than a pre-set limit, goes outside certain boundaries or is in a crash. Others warn drivers to slow down and turn off their cell phones if it senses a teen is driving. But no piece of technology will take the place of a watchful parent offering guidance and support while teaching their young drivers how to be safe. Many have composed parent and teen driving agreements or pledges asking teens to commit to safe driving habits and eliminate distractions behind the wheel.

“It’s important to talk with new drivers about how the use of technology can make us better drivers. Young drivers can be inattentive and careless, which can have severe consequences,” noted McWilliams. “Automotive technology can help us be better drivers by enhancing our skills and enabling us to curtail our distractions.”

It never hurts to call upon technology to help you steer your new motorist in adopting safe habits and skills. It will pay dividends to drive home the point with your teen that the choices made while driving can have a big impact on his or her life and the lives of others. The best drivers are careful ones who have assistance from attentive parents and extraordinary technology. ■

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