Safe Technology for Parents of Teen Drivers

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It’s an uncomfortable conversation with your teenage son or daughter. “Where have you been, Megan?” “At Brittany’s house, Mom.” “No, I just spoke with her mom and you weren’t there. Your car keys are gone for a week!”

How many times have you wished you could just trust your child? With the new high tech devices available on cars, we can provide a bit more protection for them, and perhaps show them just how much we care.

As in any relationship, however, communication is key when considering these monitoring devices. It’s not wise to install one and not tell your teen. This causes them to lose trust in you. You want them to know you trust them enough to drive a car, so they can trust you enough to install one of these devices.

Whenever a child gets behind the wheel for the first time, it is a huge deal. For them, it means they get to have some freedom; for parents, it means a new set of stresses. Chevrolet is one of the companies trying to minimize this. In an online poll, parents indicated what their biggest worry was and teen driving was the top item. Some of Chevy’s 2017 cars, including the Bolt EV, Camaro, Volt and Tahoe, will offer teen driver technology. Activated by the key fob, this technology can let parents do such things as limit the maximum volume on the radio and give audio and visual warnings when the car is traveling faster than the preapproved speed set by you, the parent. Even more valuable is the ability to set the vehicle so that if front seat belts aren’t fastened, the audio won’t work. This system also provides a report card showing parents how their teen driver is doing, which allows parents to coach and discuss such things as distance traveled, antilock braking events, tailgating alerts and “wide-open throttle events.”

Other automakers with teen monitoring systems include Ford MyKey, which includes screening or blocking explicit radio stations on satellite radio; it chimes when the seatbelt is not fastened, prevents the radio from going on until the driver buckles up and limits volume. Hyundai Blue Link offers roadside assistance in addition to teen safeguards, such as speed alert, geo-fence and curfew alerts. Parents can set boundaries on the car and receive a message if it’s overridden.

GM’s Family Link is part of On Star and allows parents to find their teen’s car on a map on their website and receive a text or email with their location. Mercedes-Benz mbrace has Safe Ride, which allows the driver to signal if they need help getting home, such as if they are intoxicated or tired.

There are a plethora of GPS-based vehicle monitoring options parents can select, including smartphone apps that alert parents when their children are driving faster than a preset speed and devices such as a telematics device provided by their insurance company. These plug into the vehicle’s onboard diagnostic computer or are hard-wired into the automobile by a professional.

A 2009 study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety interviewed 84 16- and 17-year-old drivers in the Washington, D.C., area. These teens admitted that they drove safer behind the wheel when their vehicle was equipped with one of these devices. “It’s a terrific method to help parents have good and effective coaching with their teenagers around safe driving,” noted Greg Toczydlowski, president of Travelers Personal Insurance.

Travelers’ mileage-based discount program, IntelliDrive, uses a palm-size device that fits into a diagnostic port, usually under the steering wheel in vehicles made since 1996. The program, which features a secure website where parents can view driving data and history, is currently available in seven states. Allstate’s Drivewise device is currently available in 27 states. Nationwide’s SmartRide® usage-based program is available in 24 states and monitors driving behaviors including speeding, braking, nighttime driving and miles driven.

AT&T’s DriveMode® mobile app allows parents to restrict a driver’s cellphone use. It can be set up to automatically send a customizable reply when the vehicle reaches a speed of 25 mph. This is a valuable safety feature, as according to the U.S. Department of Transportation, 16 percent of all distracted driving crashes involve drivers under 20.

These devices and apps have a positive impact on both teen drivers and parents. Parents feel it helps their teens mature as drivers, especially when they have other teens in the car. Plus, teens are more apt to tell their parents if their plans change because they know their parents have the tools to determine their whereabouts and driving activity.

There is a fine line between being a helicopter parent and simply being a loving one. Make sure you and your teen have a solid understanding about why you want to know where they are and how they are driving. If the conversation goes right, it will be a win-win. ■

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