Thursday, August 13, 2009

New Ford Safety Features Rein In Teen Drivers

By Dan Sorenson; Arizona Daily Star

MyKey, left, a standard feature on all 2010 Taurus models, is a new safety device aimed at parents of teen drivers.

Safety doesn't make most car buyers' hearts race, but Ford is hoping a new safety feature aimed at parents of teen drivers will help drive sales of the 2010 Taurus.

MyKey, a standard feature on all 2010 Taurus models, lets parents turn on a feature that limits the car's top speed to 80 mph.

It also prevents a driver using the special MyKey from turning off the car's traction control. There's also an "insistent" seat belt reminder that has a nagging tone and mutes the radio; a low-fuel warning that comes on when the fuel level drops to 75 miles range instead of the standard 50 miles. It can also limit radio volume to 44 percent of maximum.

While those individual features, including so-called "smart keys," aren't entirely new, Ford appears to be the first to put them in a package aimed at parents.

MyKey is already available on the Ford Focus and will be available on much of the rest of the line soon, said Robert Parker, a Ford corporate product spokesman.

Parker said Ford's market research showed 67 percent of teens polled said they didn't like the MyKey features, but 64 percent said they would be "more accepting" if they resulted in greater driving privileges.

"I do think it's a good safety feature, but I think it's pretty invasive as well because I like to listen to my music really loud," said Stefan Cain, a senior at Tucson High School.

He said he's been driving about a year and a half and hasn't had any accidents.

"I don't speed. But I just think that's kind of invasive; it seems like something could go wrong with that (speed limiter) and screw up," Cain said.

But parent Lynda Gunn said the speed-limiting feature is attractive to her.

"I think it would be great. Anything to help the kids be safer. I like the idea of limiting them to 80 mph. But it would be nice, I don't know how you could do this," but said she'd like a feature that would stop a driver from "taking a curve to fast, taking a turn too quickly."

But she has a free idea borrowed from other parents that she may use when her son, Andrew, about to turn 16, starts to drive. "A lot of the families I know that have teens that drive already have their kids lock their cell phones in the trunk so that they can't get to them," Gunn said.
Her husband, Sven Gunn, wasn't quite as eager about the entire package. But he also had an idea on a further enhancement.

"Well, I think the speed thing would probably be a good feature. I don't know about the stereo. I don't know that that's critical. But the speed is more of a safety feature.

"I think it would be a good idea (to have) these breathalyzer things, if they had been drinking" they couldn't start the car.

Son Andrew Gunn, the soon-to-be-driver, said his parents have already given him another condition of driving, "Certain people I'm not allowed to drive with," the Catalina Foothills High School sophomore said.

Better ways to save lives
Local driving instructor Scott Cavell, said MyKey is a good feature, but he thinks there are better ways to save teens' — and others' — lives. He thinks forcing student drivers to put in more hours behind the wheel with an instructor, making it tougher to get a license, would be the best move.
Cavell is a retired school teacher with a drivers ed certification who owns Sonoran Driving School Inc. of Tucson.

"You can put rev limiters and all sorts of aftermarket things on a car, but most people aren't going to do it. So it's a good idea," Cavell said of the MyKey speed-limiting feature.
"I'll bet as an option it sells like hot cakes," said Cavell.

He said it would be better if it was programmable, so the top speed could be adjusted by the parent. But he said speed isn't his biggest concern.

"I hate speed cameras but I love red-light cameras. That should tell you something about me. Personally I wouldn't let 16-year-olds drive. You can get a license very easily in Arizona. But teenagers aren't the most dangerous group, it's impaired drivers," Cavell said.

Other safety features
The new Taurus is carrying a lot of Ford's hopes and the company is spreading the bet by including performance, fuel economy and luxury, as well as the safety feature.

But the MyKey feature is what Ford's marketing people have been leading with as the new Taurus is being rolled out around the country. Ford's public-relations team came to town with a pair of 2010 Taurus sedans for a presentation at Jim Click Ford Wednesday.

Ford's Parker said the Taurus is a completely new car, "there's not a piece of sheet metal carried over" from the previous version of the sedan.

MyKey isn't the only safety feature, though others — including radar-assisted adaptive cruise control and some other accident avoidance features — are optional or part of better equipped Taurus models and other cars in the Ford-Lincoln-Mercury family.

Although a feature blocking cell phone use altogether would probably please parents most, the new Taurus does have one safety-related option moving in that direction. It has an optional device that reads incoming text messages on the driver's cell phone.
Contact reporter Dan Sorenson at 573-4185 or

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