Prevention and awareness are the keys to safety
Every parent knows the dangers that their teen will face on the road. Auto accidents are the leading cause of teen deaths each year and auto makers are responding with cutting edge technology. There are now a number of options to help keep drivers, especially teens, safe from the most common hazards.
Using technology wisely
Ultimately, the most important factors in keeping any teen safe are the example set forth by a parent, open communication and understanding how to be a responsible driver.
Many of the technologies available to parents can make teen drivers feel uneasy and as if there's a lack of trust. It is important that parents use these systems as educational tools, rather than for punishment. Teenagers are more likely to have a positive experience with certain monitoring tools when parents are upfront about the purpose, use it as a coaching tool and allow greater responsibility with improved skills and smart decision-making.
Finally, vehicle safety and the latest gadgets will only provide for a certain level of protection. Practice, awareness, education and continued learning are the most important tools a parent can share with their teenager. Graduated driver's licensing can help to ensure that new drivers are introduced slowly to all of the distractions and challenges of being on the road.
Safety options available now
GPS vehicle tracking and notification systems
Though still relatively new to the market, several GPS manufacturers have developed systems that enable parents to monitor driving speeds and distances from afar. Using a GPS (global positioning system) that resides in the vehicle, new software is available that allows parents to see where the teen is driving and to receive notifications if the speed exceeds a certain threshold.
Vehicle assistance services
From BMW's Assist to GM's OnStar, assistance services being offered in today's vehicles can be helpful in a post-accident situation. Current systems use GPS technology to alert emergency officials to the location of the vehicle. However, future versions promise to also provide details of the exact nature of the accident such as which airbags deployed and which side the impact occurred to help alert nearby emergency rooms of potential injuries.
A vehicle armed with anticipatory braking will use radar to anticipate a collision and prepare the brakes for better stopping. Lexus and BMW both offer a version of this technology, while GM is working on a newer model that will use GPS and WiFi instead of radar to locate nearby vehicles. These systems are a step beyond anti-lock brakes and can help newer drivers avoid colliding with other vehicles or objects.
Enhanced cruise control
Mercedes-Benz, Lexus, Infiniti, Jaguar and Audi all offer enhanced cruise control systems that allow you to set a specific following distance from the vehicle in front of you. These programs ensure that when the system is enabled, your vehicle will automatically distance itself from the car in front of it to assist with collision avoidance.
Built-in alcohol detectors
Some vehicle manufacturers, including Volvo and Saab, are beginning to offer built-in alcohol detectors that prevent a vehicle from even being started if the driver has any alcohol in their system. From standard breathalyzers to systems that detect levels via the skin of the hands on the steering wheel, these systems are designed to prevent the possibility of driving while intoxicated. Teens and alcohol are a lethal, and all too frequent, combination.
Technology of the future
Slated for a 2010 release, the MyKey feature will allow parents to control certain aspects of a vehicle when their teen is driving. Some examples include keeping the radio off as long as the seatbelt isn't fastened, limiting radio volume or restricting the vehicle from exceeding a certain speed. Depending on locale and individual needs, parents can also program the vehicle to sound a chime when the driver exceeds speeds of 45, 55, or 65 miles per hour.