With growing up, being able to drive is a source of freedom and independence for many teens. Parents often have reluctance handing over the keys, however, and for good reason. Teen drivers are more likely to get into serious and fatal accidents. Young drivers aged 16 to 24 continue to be at higher risk of being killed in a motor vehicle accident per kilometre than all other age groups, according to Transport Canada. About 24 percent of fatalities and 26 percent of those seriously injured are in the 16 to 24 age range when only 13 percent of licenced drivers fall in that age group.
There are many reasons for teen driver accidents, including texting while driving. A 2013 survey of 108,000 adolescent drivers in Ontario found that 46 percent of licensed students in Grade 12 admitted to having texted while driving. Distracted driving is a major cause of teen accidents along with driver inexperience, reckless driving and driving impaired. Teen driver accidents continue to occur in large numbers despite driver training programs, Graduated Driver Licensing, and the risks of trouble with parents, getting into an accident and getting charged with an offence.
Car manufacturers are helping to increase safety on the road for all road users by introducing new technology for teen drivers. Ford has introduced “MyKey,” a programmable system specific to an individual car key that allows parents to set the controls and view how their teen operated the vehicle. Available in any model equipped with the MyFordTouch infotainment system, which allows parents to limit the vehicle’s maximum speed (e.g., to 120 kilometres per hour) and it provides a speed alert that chimes at speeds that parents pre-set (e.g., 70, 80 and 90 kilometres per hour) to remind teens to slow down. The system also mutes the radio until the front seat belts are buckled. It has a “Do Not Disturb” feature that blocks incoming phone calls and text messages while the vehicle is turned on.
For the 2016 Chevrolet Malibu, GM is introducing a similar initiative called “Teen Driver,” which will be built into the car’s existing MyLink system that operates navigation and entertainment controls. Like Ford’s “MyKey,” the vehicle is programmable for settings that are unique to a specific car key, such as limiting top speeds that the vehicle will travel. It also has a “report card” display on the vehicle’s video screen which displays data such as maximum speed reached, distance driven and number of times active safety features were engaged. It can mute audio until seat belts are buckled and mute email and texts on paired devices during driving. The system can be set so that the car’s safety features, such as parking assist and forward collision alert, cannot be disabled. GM says that after this first launch, it plans to include “Teen Driver” in more cars.
GM has also introduced “Family Link,” a vehicle tracking device which is part of its “OnStar” service. Parents can locate the vehicle at any time by going onto the system’s website and they can also set geographic boundaries for their teen driver so that the system will provide a text alert if the car is driven outside this area. GM’s OnStar service provides navigation and calls emergency services if you are in a collision. Using the OnStar website, you can set up to receive text messages at specific locations (e.g. to let you know that your teen has arrived at school or at home).
Features that create awareness of speed and location for parents are also now available from Truvolo, a small device that plugs into your car’s diagnostics port and works with your smartphone. The self-diagnostic feature runs a test each time the vehicle starts, checking for mechanical problems. It also sends alerts to parents based on arrival at specific locations. Its built-in sensors can report to parents via a smartphone application as to how the car is being driven. For example, alerts will be sent to the parent if the teen driver rapidly accelerates, swerves or suddenly brakes hard, activating the antilock brakes and stability control.
Another new technology being offered is voice-activated controls and buttons on the steering wheel for paired devices. On 30 of its 2015 models, GM already has this available so that text messages can be read out loud, which can be answered by voice technology. A “do not disturb” mode can also be set automatically with a text to the sender stating, “I am driving and will respond when I arrive.”
The option to have dictated text messages along with hand-free calls and access to several iPhone functions (e.g., Siri) will be available in Apple’s new “CarPlay” system. Google is similarly bringing its Android operating system to cars. These systems will be available soon in various vehicle makes and models. However, critics are suggesting that talking in hands-free mode while driving is just as unsafe as driving while holding a phone.
In order to make the new technology a positive and safe experience for teen drivers, much discussion is needed within families about the purpose of the technology, which is to help keep teens safe by encouraging them to develop safe driving habits. An agreement between parents and teens should be made about where and how your teen can drive. The technology is not there to replace teaching proper driving skills but to provide additional support.
At Howard Yegendorf & Associates, we are accident lawyers in Ottawa Ontario, serving clients in Toronto and Kingston as well. If there has been an injury or fatality in your family from a driving accident caused by another’s negligence, we can obtain fair compensation for you. Our services are provided on a contingency fee basis, which means you don’t pay a retainer or any legal fees until the case is resolved. Contact our personal injury law firm in Ottawa at 1-866-303-5118.