Teen-Proofing Cars: A Technology Essential or Major Overkill?

Did you know about new technology that is supposed to “teen-proof” cars for safety purposes? I thought it was an interesting idea for sure, but what did that mean? How exactly would someone “teen-proof” a vehicle?

For cars, at least, here are the features for “teen-proofing”:

  • Speed control by limiting the car’s top speed
  • GPS vehicle locator
  • Ability to have the car read incoming text messages to the driver
  • Stereo volume limiter
  • Muted stereo until the seat belt is fastened
  • Text messages to parents when the car exceeds speed limits, is out after curfew, or enters a pre-determined “geo fenced” zone

These features are being used by Ford (My Key Technology), GM (On Star), and Hyundai (Blue Link) as of now, but it sounds like other car companies are also looking into it.

Initially I thought this was a good idea; the safer the better, right? If I had kids, it would be nice to limit their speed (if they had somewhere to be, then they could just leave the house extra early, right? It would be great to control how they were driving and make sure they don’t do “stupid” things).

But after thinking these things through, I wondered more about teen-proofed cars and questioned them. Would these things really make them safer? Or would it make them more rebellious? Wouldn’t it really just enable them to drive stupidly in other vehicles because they wouldn’t learn to make conscious decisions on their own? I think kids need to drive the speed limit because it’s safe, and law abiding, not because the car won’t allow them to speed.

A speeding ticket or a fender bender teaches a teen much more than can be learned in a classroom or from a super-technical, “teen-proof” car. We need to let kids experience life and make lots of mistakes—that’s what truly keeps them safe. They learn, as we did, the right way to drive, and how to stay safe.

Will teens with "teen-proof" cars learn from their mistakes?

Will teens with "teen-proof" cars learn from their mistakes?

I have to wonder: why are parents allowing their teens to drive these brand-new, fancy cars in the first place? My first car was an old, ugly, reliable, clunker that I paid for myself. And I loved that car! I taught myself how to drive safely (I had to floor it for a mile or two before I was able to pass someone!) with the radio blaring, and I had a couple of close calls through the first years. That taught me so much, and today, I’m thankful for those experiences. It’s a sure bet that your teens won’t be showing off and joyriding if you give them a 1990 beater Chevy like mine to drive—but if you give them a 2012 Sonata with a sunroof, then of course they’ll take corners at 100 mph!

Not to mention, having the car control itself is less safe. I think auto makers need to make cars safer with seat belts, air bags, and good braking systems, but leave the control up to the driver. Electrical malfunctions are much less safe than driver error, because electronic malfunctions are out of our control—remember Toyota’s runaway cars?

I always trust human judgment over technology—especially that of my own kids (if I had any). We’re designed for critical, fast thinking. Cars are not!

The more technology that takes over, the dumber we become. I feel that we need to continue to think for ourselves and teach our children the right way to handle things, including a car. Those are skills we all need to learn the hard way sometimes. And, if we continue to allow controls like this—what’s next? Is the government going to put restrictions on all cars? Are adults also going to be forced to buckle up before being allowed to use the radio? When is enough, enough? Where does the control end? Teen-proofing cars are just the beginning.

What do you think of this technology? Is it making us and our kids safer? Or does it enable them to make worse choices, and to not take responsibility? What other technology might not be all it’s cracked up to be?


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  1. Mandy Kilinskis

    I totally agree that more technology makes us dumber, but the feature that reads incoming text messages is really nice. Too many teens (and all younger drivers, really) check their phones while driving. A feature that reads texts out loud would allow them to keep their hands on the wheel and not on their phone. Sure, I’d hope that they have better sense than that…but let’s be realistic here.

    Those kids just better warn their friends if they are in the car with their parents. I can just visualize hilarious texts from last night being read over a speaker…

    • Amanda

      Yeah–I can see that being a handy feature Mandy. But people, especially teens, will still be replying to the text messages though. I wonder if they will come out with a feature that will allow you respond to the text using only your voice.

  2. Juliette

    Wow. I definitely think that they’re enterting the realm of overkill! It just seems to me that this would end up with kids not learning to pay attention to their surroundings and blaming things on the car and its computer rather than accepting responsibility like you mentioned.

    Not to mention, I’m personally against cars with that many computerized functions. That whole “fear of Skynet taking over” thing. 😉

    • Jill Tooley

      I had the same thought about Skynet, Juliette! It’s a bit scary the way technology is advancing…

    • Amanda

      Exactly Juliette! I think teens, above all else really, need to learn responsibility and accountability, especially when driving. And I think it will be a long while before every single car has these features, if ever….so what happens when they drive or buy a car w/o it? Will they forget how to drive in some ways? The future is scary!

      Thanks for your comments. =)

  3. Jill Tooley

    Speed control by limiting the car’s top speed – This seems a bit silly and a whole lot of dangerous. Sometimes you’re in situations where you HAVE to speed up to pass another car on the highway, and having a predetermined limit kind of scares me.

    GPS vehicle locator – This makes sense for concerned parents.

    Ability to have the car read incoming text messages to the driver – This is a great feature. Text messaging while driving is a HUGE problem among teens, and this may actually be a good thing to have!

    Stereo volume limiter – Why is this necessary? To protect their precious little eardrums? Every kid should be able to blare the stereo once in awhile to blow off steam…

    Muted stereo until the seat belt is fastened – It’s a good idea, but I could see this malfunctioning at some point and rendering the entire stereo unusable no matter what the seatbelt situation.

    Text messages to parents when the car exceeds speed limits, is out after curfew, or enters a pre-determined “geo fenced” zone – This also seems silly to me. If you can’t trust your teenager THAT much, then maybe you have bigger issues at hand!

    Maybe we’re just from a different generation, Amanda. I’m right there with you – I’ve had my fair share of scrapes and scares while on the road, but I learned my lesson and became a better driver because of it. Before I got my permit, my parents sat me down and had a heart-to-heart with me about the importance of safe driving. They trusted me to do the right thing and be safe, and you know what? I was. My little beater car was also nothing to show off, but man was I so proud of it! It wasn’t going to win any car shows, but it got me where I needed to go. And come to think of it, I probably would have been a show-off if I’d had a brand new vehicle right off the bat. I took extra good care of my car (and of myself) because I had respect for it. How many kids can say the same nowadays?

    Nice post. Thanks for bringing up this topic! 🙂

    • amy

      I completely agree with your “Text messages to parents” idea. If you can’t trust your kid enough to stay off highways or come home on time, you’ve got larger issues that need addressing.

      My car isn’t going to win any car show awards either, but its made it possible to get from point A to point B 🙂

    • Amanda

      Thanks Jill. Yeah, I thought this was super interesting! I can see how a few features could be useful, but not all of them. I think most are overboard and teaches kids to rely on the car rather than themselves–which to me, is 100% backwards.

  4. Jen

    Nice post Amanda.

    I agree that it is silly for there to be so many limits on a teen’s car. I think good driving stems from parents, like Jill said, her parents had a heart to heart with her about being a safe driver. My parents did the same with me. I had a couple fender benders when I was a teen, and it taught me so much. We learn from our mistakes.

    • Amanda

      Agreed! I think people, and especially teens, need to learn more from experience than from technical restrictions, especially with cars and trucks.

  5. amy

    Great post Amanda! I knew of a couple of the new technologies being used, but reading text messages was a new one. How cool! I’ve had my license for 6 years but I’d still love to use that technology 🙂

    • Amanda

      Thanks Amy! Yeah, I’m sure the list of features will keep growing and growing. People love their technology! I’m just shocked by the parents who think every single one of these new features will keep their kids “safer”. With certain things, I think the more basic options are safer. Like with Toyota’s braking systems, I don’t understand what was wrong with the old system of brakes….a mechanical device rather than an electronic one—much much less likely to have problems. I think some of these new technologies are just so people have to bring their cars to the dealer instead of fixing it themselves.

      • Amanda

        Whoops! I typed braking system somehow….I mean to say problems with the accelerator (gas pedal).

  6. Lauren G.

    Wow! This type of technology scares me. I also agree…Skynet. Robots=scary. I’m sure that every parent would “feel better” knowing every move their kid is doing while driving. This to me just seems really overprotective. I see both sides though. My first car was an 89′ LTD Crown Victoria, like the old squad cars. This thing was solid metal! They felt “safer” with me driving this than a little sports car (which can be risky with a lead foot such as my own). 😉 As for the locator, I like it, yet I don’t. I’m so wishy washy with this because kids, let alone teenagers, need their privacy. Yet, what if, heaven forbid, an accident or abduction? This sort of technology would help in a really bad situation.

    Volume controller? Really, now that’s just ridiculous. Teens are meant to rock out! I still do and don’t care. 🙂

    • Amanda

      Thanks for the comment Lauren! I agree–it’s a hard topic to make a solid decision about. Some of the features are handy and some are crazy overboard. I know what you mean–my first car was a ’90 Chevy Cavalier and that thing was solid (besides the rust! lol). Plus, I don’t have kids yet, so who knows how I’d feel if I did have teens driving around. I just know that, like you said, “teens are meant to rock out”, and they need their privacy too–so a lot of these features are unnecessary to me too.

  7. Marisa

    Coming from a teen, myself, I would have to say all these ideas are incredibly dumb. If you are worried about your kid going over the speed limit while driving, maybe you should focus more on how you are parenting them instead of how to stop them. If you don’t trust your kid to drive safely, don’t let them drive at all until you CAN trust them. It’s the own kid’s fault if you can’t trust them to follow the law. If your kid is out past curfew, why need a text? Won’t you realize your child isn’t at home? Odds are teens aren’t going 72 hours in one car trip, the necessity for their text messages to be read to them is a -23423434. I think we should be able to wait 20 minutes until we are at where we are going. Or if you are expecting a text, wait until you get it to get on the road!! So those are my thoughts. :D.

    • Amanda

      Thank you for your comments Marisa. I agree with what you’re saying, and I’m glad I was able to hear what a teenager thought about these features. Like you, I think teens need to prove that they are responsible enough to drive before being allowed to get their license, simple as that. Please feel free to stop by the QLP blog again! =)

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