By Charles Krome
Most parents feel at least a flutter of nerves when their child is first learning to ride a bike. But that’s nothing compared to seeing your kid driving for the first time. It almost makes you wish cars came with training wheels. They don’t, of course, but what they do have is an increasing number of mobile technologies that can be especially helpful for young drivers.
A good place to start is with the technologies specifically designed with young, inexperienced drivers in mind. Popular auto brands such as Chevy, Ford, Hyundai, Kia and Volkswagen all have telematics systems that leverage GPS and wireless communications for teen-driving. These can, for instance, email or text you if a vehicle is driven outside of your pre-set boundaries. Depending on the car, some systems also will let you limit the top speed of the vehicle, limit audio volume, and even create a “report card” of each of your teen’s trips, complete with information about how far and how fast the car was driven. It can tell you if your car’s active safety features had to be deployed, too.
Other functions that can be bundled here include enhanced seat-belt reminders and early warning systems to remind young drivers to fill up before they run out of gas.
The more general telematics technologies also can provide extra confidence for you and your young driver alike. Again, the details will differ between automakers, but two key benefits are automatic crash-notification and the “SOS” emergency button. The former can automatically alert emergency advisors if an airbag deployment is detected; with the latter, drivers can get help with the press of a button at any time.
It’s also worth noting that telematics hardware is built right into today’s vehicles, so you don’t need a cellphone to use most of the services. You will likely need a paid subscription, although many automakers do provide free service packages for new vehicles for varying lengths of time.
To be clear, paying attention remains the most important step anyone can take to stay safe on the road. That means young drivers should consider these features only as a last-ditch defense against a crash, not as an excuse for distracted driving.
Yet technologies like adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitors, lane-departure alerts and more have proven effective at reducing crashes and injuries. Look at the recent partnership between the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and 20 of the top automakers: The goal is to get automatic emergency braking into most of the new cars and trucks sold in this country by 2022. That’s three years earlier than originally estimated, and the program is expected to prevent 28,000 crashes as a result.
There’s still a lot of confusion about exactly what some of those driver-assistance technologies do, though. For example, a recent University of Iowa study showed that more than 65 percent of drivers surveyed didn’t understand what adaptive cruise control does—which is to help maintain a safe following distance while the cruise control is on, with the ability to automatically apply the brakes if the driver gets too close to the vehicle ahead.
Indeed, because this lack of knowledge can make such a big difference on driving safety, the University has teamed with the National Safety Council to launch MyCarDoesWhat.org, a website devoted to explaining many of the new driver-assistance technologies.
Keeping Tech in Check
Of course, there is the flip-side to all of those tech advantages. Automakers often pair their cutting-edge safety systems with equally advanced infotainment features, and they’re the technologies that can lead directly to distracted driving. Using a cellphone while driving, whether it’s to talk or to text, has reached epidemic proportions in this country. And guess which age group has the largest proportion of distracted drivers involved in car crashes? Unsurprisingly, it’s drivers aged 15-19, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The NHTSA also reports that nearly 3,200 people were killed as a result of distracted-driving crashes in 2014, with 431,000 people injured the same year.
Meanwhile, automakers continue to introduce new ways to make it easier to use smartphones in their vehicles, through features including Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. These technologies are sweeping the industry and are now found in such practical cars as the Honda Civic and Ford Focus. They transform a car’s touchscreen display into a remote home screen for the driver’s phone, for simpler access to more of the phone’s functions. A few automakers also deliver actual 4G LTE Wi-Fi service, with the Chevy Cruze as an affordable case in point.
Yet the bottom line is that anything that takes your teen’s attention away from driving, no matter for how short of a time, increases the risk for a crash: Drivers who are texting take their eyes off the road for an average of five seconds per text. At the 70-mph highway speed limit, that’s like travelling 500 feet without once looking at the road. Simply put, the government’s website for distracted driving recommends that teens turn off their phones entirely before taking the wheel, and you should do the same—in terms of both what you recommend and the example you set.
Charles Krome is a car enthusiast and writer for CARFAXHe keeps up with emerging automotive technology and safety trends to share tips on smart car buying and teen driving safety. For more advice, check out Krome on Cars on Facebook.