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How to use technology to keep teen drivers safe


The hardest part of parenting twins so far was the notorious potty-training episode of 2004.

But from what other parents tell me, another equally torturous experience is about to take place in my life: teaching my twin 15-year-olds to drive.

Luckily, car manufacturers, aftermarket products and app developers have all stepped up to help. There are many options parents can use as teaching tools and even tattle tales for teen drivers.

Chevy’s Teen Driver and Ford’s MyKey technologies are free on almost all their new models. The parental controls are programmed into a specific teen key fob; parents get the master key. They both offer an option for parents to set a maximum speed. The car warns the driver if he or she exceeds the limit, and parents get a text message letting them know, too.

Newer Chevy and Ford models also allow parents the option of locking the settings for features like forward collision alert, blind zone alert and front auto braking. Then, moms and dads know those technologies that help keep kids safe are always on.

If parents are worried about kids not buckling up in the car, they should be. Only 55 percent of high school students say they wear their seat belts when riding with someone else. Both manufacturers have a setting to mute the radio until both people in the front seats are buckled. No seat belt? No tunes.

After kids do buckle up, loud music can be a huge diversion from focusing on the road, and 93 percent of teen drivers admit to playing loud music behind the wheel. Chevy and Ford have an answer for this problem, too. Once the radio is allowed, parents can set a volume limit, so no more blaring rap music while cruising State Street.

Wait, do kids even do that anymore?

Each carmaker also has a few things the other doesn’t. Chevy will give teen drivers a warning if they mess with the touchscreen too much. Plus, parents get a report card on their kids’ driving habits. It’s always helpful to have hard-core evidence in hand about recent driving behavior to use as a teaching tool about how to be safer behind the wheel.

Ford is the first manufacturer to tackle what is a huge problem for teen drivers — texting. Parents need to make sure their kids’ phones are linked to Bluetooth, and if the car is moving, MyKey automatically sends incoming calls to voicemail and mutes texts. The kids won’t even know anyone is trying to get in touch with them. Don’t worry, drivers are still able to send emergency calls out.

These are all great, you say. But I’m not buying my teenager a new car.

There are some aftermarket solutions that fit the bill, too. Audiovox Carlink and Hum by Verizon both plug into the diagnostics port. They work on any car model newer than 1996 and can also let parents know if kids go over a maximum speed. Both options give parents geofencing capabilities where they can set specific geographical boundaries. If the car leaves those boundaries, the system notifies parents.

Carlink gives parents access to the ZoomSafer smartphone app that locks cellphones when the car starts moving and sends auto replies to anyone who to tries to contact the driver. Carlink will run you about $250 with a required yearly subscription that costs $30. Hum will cost you $50 to get set up and then a required two-year subscription for $10 per month.

AAA Foundation looked at the moments leading up to crashes from in-car dash cams to find out what distractions were behind the accidents. The results did not show texting to be the biggest culprit — it came in second. Simply talking to other passengers was the No. 1 problem.

Parents must emphasize to their teen drivers how all distractions are dangerous, not just phones. And remember to walk the walk, moms and dads. Put that phone down in the car so kids don’t mimic your bad behavior. Get the communication flowing with these great conversation starters from AAA.

My teens only have their learner’s permits for now, but when the time comes that I’m no longer required to be in the passenger seat, it’s nice to know there are ways for me to be there virtually, at least.

Amy Iverson is a graduate of the University of Utah. She has worked as a broadcast journalist in Dallas, Seattle, Italy and Salt Lake City. Amy, her husband and three kids live in Summit County, Utah. Contact Amy on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and LinkedIn.