Technology Improves Safety for Teen Drivers

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2010 Ford Taurus and the MyKey.

2010 Ford Taurus and the MyKey.

It can be a little scary for the parent of a teenager who is approaching driving age. When your son or daughter turns fifteen, driver’s education classes can begin. Then comes a learner’s permit, on-the-road lessons, and finally that ultimate privilege of becoming a sixteen-year-old, a driver’s license. Then, they’ll be out driving around by themselves.
Most mothers and fathers obviously want their teens to be as safe as possible during this time. The more conscientious ones insist on a thorough training process, including a qualified driving school, then ample time behind the wheel with parents after the lessons. Many will also purchase a family car with all the latest crash protection and multiple airbags.
Yet no matter how much effort is put into trying to ensure their safety, sometimes teenagers will get into mishaps due to a lack of experience or hormone-fueled bravado. Even the most responsible adolescent will occasionally find the power and speed of a modern car too tempting to resist, and do something foolish. Yes, even straight-A students who’ve never so much as told a lie.
Ford Motor Company commissioned some surveys with parents about this subject, and found that a vast majority favored some kind of restrictions on the operation of a car when their kids are behind the wheel. They want to trust the new drivers, but know that it takes time to build experience and maturity with something so potentially deadly as a car.
So Ford came up with MyKey, which is standard on the 2010 Taurus and is quickly being integrated into other models like the 2010 Focus. Essentially, it lets parents hand their son or daughter a special key to the car which limits its operation. When the young driver is behind the wheel, the car’s central computer is kind of babysitting them.
Under MyKey, top speed is limited to 80 miles per hour. While that may seem a little high, keep in mind that a modern car like the Taurus can easily travel well over 100. So, 80 is a much safer limit by comparison. The system can also be programmed to sound chimes and display a reading on the instrument panel when speeds of 45, 55 and 65 are reached.
A teenager driving with the restrictions of MyKey will not be able to switch off the car’s stability and traction control systems, and cannot de-activate other safety features like the blind spot warning system and parking sensors if the car is equipped with them. In other words, fooling around, showing off, or deciding that those warning beeps are annoying are not an option for your son or daughter.
Besides limiting the performance of the vehicle, MyKey also limits radio volume to 45% of maximum. No more cranking up the tunes to full blast. (The optional Sync system allows connectivity to an iPod or other MP3 device, which is a great feature, but blasting their favorite music to deafening levels would certainly be a distraction.) And if your teen doesn’t buckle up, the audio system mutes completely until the belt is fastened.
So while buckling up may seem like a hassle to the modern teenager, living without tunes might be considered downright barbaric by comparison. And while that 45% volume level seems rather high when the car is sitting and idling, it’s really not all that loud when traveling at freeway speeds.
Another item on the list of MyKey features is a change in how the “Low Fuel” warning activates. Normally, it will let a driver know that the tank is down to about 50 miles worth of gasoline. If a teen is driving, somebody at Ford thought the warning should come on earlier, at 75 miles to empty. I guess kids living in some rural areas have to be concerned about being too far from a gas station.
With modern computer controls, there are obviously more things that can be programmed into MyKey. Ford engineers even told me that they’re already working on a second version that will be phased in eventually, and will give parents even more options. For example, the maximum speed could be reduced to something like 60 or 65 for families who live in urban areas.
In the meantime, lots of new drivers will be hitting the road with the current MyKey in the near future. They might wonder what all the fuss is about, and assume that they’re good drivers who can be trusted. But for parents’ peace of mind, a little bit of electronic oversight will help them breathe a bit easier when their sons and daughters are out on the highway.
I’ll see you down the road.

Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7. He’s also a car enthusiast and owns several classics. Dave can be reached at TVCarz @ pacbell.net.

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