Chevy Debuts New Teen Driver Safety Upgrade at Miami International Auto Show

Chevy Debuts New Teen Driver Safety Upgrade at Miami International Auto Show
Courtesy of Chevy

This week, at the 2015 Miami International Auto Show, a slew of big-car manufacturers will unveil their latest models with some novel features ranging from the fun to the gimmicky to the practical. One of those car makers, General Motors, hopes that its 2016 Chevy Malibu falls into the latter category with an innovative safety upgrade called Teen Driver.

The technology is the first of its kind in the auto industry. A step beyond the cameras and automatic braking already installed on many cars today and beyond all the existing safety features included in the Malibu, Chevy markets Teen Driver as a teaching tool that provides parents with report cards on their budding Jimmie Johnsons. The program alerts teens when they've gone over the maximum speed limits parents can set, it limits the volume of the radio so music isn't a distraction, and in fact, the radio will be muted until all passengers are locked in with their safety belts.

It's a technology practical on an intellectual level. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, when it comes to American teenagers, “the fatal crash rate per mile driven for 16-19-year-olds is nearly 3 times the rate for drivers ages 20 and over. Risk is highest at ages 16-17. In fact, the fatal crash rate per mile driven is nearly twice as high for 16-17-year-olds as it is for 18-19-year-olds.”

However, how will Teen Driver work realistically in a world where teenagers are basically the worst people in the world and shrink away from any parent's attempt to protect them from themselves? New Times spoke with Patrick Hernandez, communications manager for Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, and GMC for the Southeastern United States, in an attempt to honestly answer this question as well as better inform parents as to how to get the most out of the Teen Driver tech.

New Times: This is a feature Chevy plans on having in all their vehicles in the near future, but why did they choose to implement it first in the 2016 Malibu?
Patrick Hernandez: The Malibu has always been a very big family car. It has definitely been popular around large families as well as being a very reliable vehicle over the past — well actually, it has a good, long history. It made sense at a time when we were redeveloping this car, to provide, one, cutting-age technology during the democratization of the car, and two, because the customer was mostly focused on family.

How does the system account for false positives? For example, another driver cuts you off, you slam on the brakes, and the report card collects that data. Can the car account for the world around it?
Unfortunately, it can't account for what happens outside of the vehicle but for what happens inside the vehicle. And because it provides for more than when brakes are slammed on and forward collision alerts, it gives a more rounded overview of how exactly someone is driving. It's going to be up to parents — or really anyone who's trying to monitor someone driving — to really recognize and see from the full report how someone is driving. Swerving in and out lanes at a certain point, where the side lane departure alerts will be, that'll show up in the report. That, in addition to the forward collision report, the need for stability control to kick in when you start losing traction or beginning to lose a little bit of control, all those need to be taken into consideration.

Not sure if Chevy has ever met any teenagers, but some of the things they hate the most are report cards and being spied on. Why do they think this system will work? Won't it just create more friction between parents and children?
That's a very interesting question. This is meant to start a conversation. I know there has been some consideration of, OK, well, this just goes to show that parents don't really trust their kids driving. But at the same time, it's not meant to incriminate anyone. It really is to start a conversation. And there really isn't enough to say, or that there's a report card that's going to say, "You're a bad driver." And it doesn't automatically set up as well. A parent has to go in and actually turn the system on in the car and tell the computer what to do in the vehicle dash. Our purpose is to provide a tool for parents and anyone who's trying to monitor their new driver's experience to really have that conversation about safety.

Teenagers are also a lot craftier than adults give them credit for. What assurances can Chevy give parents that their teens won't just find a workaround or turn off the system altogether?
That has always been on our minds. There's a password system to get into the Teen Driver features in the dash console. When it comes to assurances, there's always a workaround. We're constantly looking to always improve our safety features and make sure that they're the best. The recommendation that I have is to make sure the conversation happens before you actually turn it on. Be clear and open that the system is going on. It's not to trivialize their trust or minimize their ability to drive. It can apply to anyone. [For example], with distracted driving, that's a huge, huge deal. More and more people, both young and old, are paying more attention to their smartphones in particular than to what they're doing on the road. There is a security feature involved that has been inserted that will be up to parents to be more involved in that aspect to make sure their teen stays secure. But they really, really don't want the teens to mess with the [Teen Drive system.]

OK, last question: Is there going to be a Miami version to deal with road rage, middle fingers, and people allergic to signaling?
You know, [laughs] what we really need is to put out PSA in English, Spanish, Portuguese, and Haitian Creole that says, "Chill."

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Miami Beach Convention Center

1901 Convention Center Dr.
Miami Beach, FL 33139

305-673-7311

www.miamibeachconvention.com


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