By Russ Heaps
No matter how much a parent wants to give a teenager a sense of freedom, monitoring teen driving, particularly in those first couple of years with a license, makes sense.
Very few things in a teen’s life fill parents with both pride and utter terror as watching their newly minted driver pull away from the house for the first time. What could go wrong? Well, everything. However, as a parent, you aren’t as helpless as you may think.
In this age of connectivity, you’ll find an abundance of tools at your fingertips to help you keep track of your teen and his, her, or their driving. Some involve engaging safety nets built into many cars; others simply use GPS technology to track your teen’s location, speed, and so forth.
Nothing can replace you riding shotgun with your teenager behind the wheel. But many of the current technologies for monitoring a teen’s driving are the next best thing.
Teenagers aren’t the best drivers
This is an understatement at best. Actually, the safety record for teens may well be worse than you imagine. There are all sorts of ways to interpret the numbers. However you look at it, teen drivers cause more accidents than almost any other age group per driven mile.
According to Carinsurance.net , most fatal car accidents with a teen at the wheel happen within six months of obtaining a license. Another number from the same firm estimates that out of the 6 million or so car crashes each year, teen drivers are responsible for roughly 500,000 of them.
According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), 16- to 17-year-olds are about three times more likely per mile to be in a fatal crash than 20-year-olds. For 16- to 19-year-olds, the crash rate per mile is four times that of 20-year-olds. Carve out the 16 year-olds, and they are 1.5 times more likely to be in a crash than 18 to 19-year-olds.
Only drivers ages 80 years old and above post worst statistics than teens. Yes, it is alarming.
Teenage driver risk factors
We all had a moment in our lives when we realized we weren’t bulletproof. We may not remember exactly when that moment was, but it certainly wasn’t at age 16. Your 16-year-old leaves the house every day giving little thought to mortality. If your teen does think about the future, it’s probably some form of “the road goes on forever and the party never ends.” Moreover, your young teen, license in hand, doesn’t have a depth of driving experience to draw upon.
This sense of immortality and lack of useful experience conspire to put your teen in harm’s way. There are all sorts of situations with which your teenager may come face to face. Your teen’s undeveloped risk assessment will cause some of them, while your teen’s lack of experience will intensify others.
Risk factors particularly dangerous for teen drivers
Speed – Excessive speed is at the root of more than 25% of fatal crashes among teenagers.
Teen passengers – More than half of teen passenger deaths happen with a teenager at the wheel. IIHS reports that the presence of passengers drastically increases crash risk among teen drivers. A study from the AAA Foundation found that a 16- or 17-year-old driver’s risk of death increases 44% when carrying one passenger younger than 21. It doubles when carrying two passengers under the age of 21.
Night driving – Per mile driven, the fatal crash rate of teens is about four times as high at night as it is during the day.
Distracted driving – The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported that 2,042 traffic deaths in 2019 resulted from a distracted teen driver. Distractions take many forms, from texting to fussing with the radio to unwrapping a burrito. It’s anything that takes the teen’s eyes and mind off the road.
Alcohol – No matter the age, drinking and driving don’t mix. According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report, young drivers (age 16-20) are 17 times more likely to die in a crash when they have a blood-alcohol level of .08% than when sober. Some 16% of 15-to 18-year-old drivers involved in fatal crashes in 2019 had been drinking.
Seat belts – Teens are less likely to buckle up than any other age group. In 2019, 45% of teen drivers killed in crashes weren’t wearing a seat belt. A staggering 90% of teen passengers killed in crashes weren’t wearing their seat belts, either. In other words, 9 out of 10.
Car safety features
Today’s new cars, trucks, and SUVs have more safety technology than ever. Any technology that helps the driver is ultimately safety technology. This is true of teen drivers, as well. However, most of the safety/driver-aid features we list below won’t help a teen who doesn’t know how to use them or what that warning alarm means. We recommend sitting down with your teen for a little birds-and-the-bees talk about all of your vehicle’s safety technologies.
According to Carinsusrance.net, the top causes of teen-driver accidents are running off the road and rear-end incidents. There are some popular safety and driver-aids that address those very causes.
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Forward-collision warning (FCW)
Using radar, lasers, cameras, or some combination of the three, FCW detects vehicles or other objects in front of your car. More sophisticated FCW systems also identify pedestrians, cyclists, and even animals. As an FCW-equipped vehicle closes in on a detected object and FCW senses a potential collision, it issues a warning. That warning may be visual, audible, tactile, or some combination of the three.
Becoming more and more common, FCW pairs with automatic emergency braking (AEB). Using the same combination of sensors, cameras, and lasers, AEB automatically applies the brakes when it deems a collision is imminent. When working with FCW, AEB activates if the driver fails to act on the warning.
According to the IIHS, AEB reduces rear-end crashes by around 50%. IIHS goes on to say that if AEB was universally adopted, it would eliminate 110,000 teen driver rear-end crashes annually.
We believe FCW with AEB will be one of the next safety items the government makes mandatory. However, you can already find this combination even in many economy cars. For example, it’s standard in the 2022 Kia Forte FE for under $20,000. For about the same price, the 2022 Subaru Impreza provides it, as well.
Lane-departure warning (LDW)
With running off the road listed as a common cause of teen driving accidents, LDW is a seriously affordable feature to help a young driver stay on the straight and narrow path. Using a front-mounted camera, LDW keeps track of where your vehicle is in relation to the right and left lane markers. Approaching too closely to those lane markers on either side provokes a warning, compelling the teen to steer back to the center.
More sophisticated versions will even nudge the vehicle away from the side stripe toward the center of the lane.
The IIHS estimates LDW systems reduce the number of running-off-the-road accidents by 11% each year.
Blind-spot monitoring (BSM)
Engineered to alert you when vehicles enter the blind spots on your car’s rear quarter areas, BSM covers the areas your outboard mirrors might miss. Basic BSM systems employ ultrasonic or radar sensors located on either side of a vehicle’s rear bumper. These sensors issue an alert when a vehicle in an adjoining lane approaches the rear of your car. This reduces the likelihood of changing lanes into another car.
More sophisticated systems also use side-mounted cameras to monitor the adjoining lanes. The alerts can take the form of warning lights on your vehicle’s A-pillars, outboard mirrors, or the head-up display if your vehicle is so equipped.
According to IIHS estimates, BSM reduces those lane-change accidents by 14%. BSM is particularly important to young drivers who either don’t know how to effectively use the side mirrors or don’t bother using them at all.
Rear cross-traffic alert (RCTW)
Although none of our sources listed RCTW as a teen lifesaver, it’s a handy warning system when backing out of a parking spot or driveway. Moreover, it’s often paired with blind-spot monitoring.
Using the BSM sensors and cameras, RCTW monitors traffic on the path crossing behind your car when in reverse. If it detects an approaching vehicle, it sounds a warning. More sophisticated RCTW systems also feature automatic rear braking.
Safety/driver aid bundles
Many newer cars have one or more of our must-have safety features. Once found mostly in luxury vehicles, several non-luxury brands now provide a suite of safety/driver aids as standard in many of their models. Many active safety features are available in nearly every new vehicle. Here we list a few of the carmaker safety bundles by name.
Honda Sensing – It includes FCW, LDW, Honda’s /zigman2/quotes/207173990/composite HMC -0.65% Road Departure Mitigation System, and more. Honda Sensing is standard or available across the automaker’s lineup.
Ford Co-Pilot360 – FCW with AEB, BSM, RCTW, LDW, and more are part of Ford’s /zigman2/quotes/208911460/composite F +0.68% suite of driver aids. It was standard for most new Ford models beginning in 2021. It’s optional for the few new models that don’t include it.
Nissan Safety Shield 360 – Nissan’s /zigman2/quotes/207656007/composite NSANY -1.61% suite of driver aids includes FCW with AEB, BSM, RCTW, LDW, and more. It has been standard on the majority of Nissan’s most popular models at least since 2021. Some of those models are Sentra, Kicks, Rogue, Maxima, Titan, Rogue Sport, and Altima.
Hyundai SmartSense – Hyundai’s /zigman2/quotes/204364212/composite HYMTF -0.56% safety bundle includes FCW, AEB, BSM, RCTW, LDW, and more. These and several other safety features are mixed and matched across Hyundai’s model lineup.
Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 and 2.5 – Found as standard for many Toyota /zigman2/quotes/200537742/composite TM -0.32% models, Safety Sense 2.0/2.5 includes FCW, AEB, LDW, and more. Among the included models are Corolla, Camry, Prius, Sienna, Highlander, Tacoma, and Tundra.
Subaru EyeSight – Although this driver-aid bundle’s content can vary from model to model, some safety features are constant. They include FCW, AEB, and LDW. It’s not offered in the BRZ or WRX STI, but is standard or optional in every other Subaru /zigman2/quotes/200526066/composite FUJHY -1.14% model. Among the models in which EyeSight has been standard since 2020 are Ascent, Outback, Forester, and Legacy.
Kia Drive Wise – Among the standard safety technologies in Kia /zigman2/quotes/206019389/delayed KR:000270 -1.31% Drive Wise are FCW, BSM, and RCTW. Some models also include AEB, BSM, and RCTW.
What is crash-test rating?
Crash-test rating is the process for testing and scoring the safety of a vehicle during a variety of crash scenarios. Nearly every passenger car, light truck, and SUV must submit to crash testing.
NHTSA performs just three tests, scoring each using a system of stars. The best score is 5 stars and the worst, 1 star. The three areas NHTSA tests and scores are frontal crash, side crash, and rollover crash. It scores each test individually and issues an overall score, as well.
A nonprofit organization supported by the automotive insurance companies, IIHS doesn’t only perform crash tests, it also uses other data and qualifiers to issue its annual Top Safety Pick and Top Safety Pick+ awards. Currently, it scores Good, Acceptable, Marginal, or Poor in six testing areas. Those areas are driver’s side small overlap front, passenger-side small-overlap front, moderate-overlap front, side, roof strength, and head restraints & seats.
We recommend that, as parents, you make every attempt to find a vehicle that has 5 stars across all of the government tests and scored Good on all the IIHS tests. Furthermore, give some serious weight to the IIHS Top Safety Pick and Top Safety Pick+ models.
How to monitor teenage drivers
There is no shortage of statistics available to parents who are taking the necessary steps to make their teen drivers safer. In a nutshell, the IIHS sums things up by emphasizing that teen drivers are typically worse at recognizing hazards and controlling the vehicle than experienced drivers. Consequently, teen drivers have more loss-of-control and run-off-the-road crashes. Night driving is also historically hazardous for teenage drivers.
We have pinpointed those and a few other issues affecting the safety of teenage drivers among the Risk Factors above. Once you recognize the major causes of teen crashes and deaths, you can form a strategy for minimizing them. For example, consider night driving. Again, according to the IIHS, roughly 20% of injuries and one-third of deaths among 16- and 17-year-old drivers occur between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m.
Simply restricting your teen’s driving to daylight hours, that is to say, issuing a nighttime driving curfew, eliminates one of the greatest risk factors.
Excessive speed is a factor in 25% of teen-driver fatal crashes. Wouldn’t being able to physically restrict the vehicle’s speed or at least monitor your teen’s speed in real-time help keep the speed down?
Take another look at seatbelts. About 45% of teen-driver fatalities involved a driver that was driving unbuckled. How about programming the car not to start if the seatbelts aren’t engaged?
If these sound like terrific ideas to have but nearly impossible to implement, read on.
There are several apps available for your teen driver’s phone engineered to keep your teenage driver safer while providing you with some peace of mind. They all utilize the teen’s phone’s GPS and are compatible with both Android or Apple IOS devices.
AT&T DriveMode – A free app available even to non-AT&T /zigman2/quotes/203165245/composite T +1.42% customers, DriveMode automatically switches on at 25 miles per hour when set to Auto Mode. Moreover, it automatically turns off when the vehicle speed drops below 25 mph. When the app is engaged, it blocks calls and text messages. There is an auto-reply setting that can reply to both phone calls and text messages. If your teen turns off either Auto Mode or the app itself, you receive a text alert.
Mama Bear – This app will notify you when your teen exceeds a preset speed limit. You can also program it with locations, and it will alert you when your teen arrives at or leaves a preset location.
TrueMotion Family Safe Driving – Adds a little competition among family members by monitoring and scoring the driving habits of each. It tracks phone use while driving, speeding, location, aggressive driving, and so forth. It awards points for good driving habits.
Hum by Verizon – Only available to Verizon /zigman2/quotes/204980236/composite VZ -0.45% customers, Hum requires a monthly subscription. Also, rather than just relying on the vehicle’s GPS, it actually tracks the vehicle’s performance by employing an OBD II reader. However, it does more than monitor driving behavior. In addition to providing the vehicle’s location while providing speed and boundary alerts, it also offers vehicle diagnostics, navigation, and more.
Cars that help teen drivers
Several car companies partner with parents to keep track of and restrict a teenager’s behavior behind the wheel. In other words, these carmakers are building teen-driver technologies into some or all of their models. Ford introduced its MyKey teen-driver technology in 2009. It was the first such system.
Not every model or trim level qualifies for a carmaker’s teen safeguards, but many of them do.
GM Teen Driver – Allowing parents to preset maximum speeds, they receive audible and visual alerts when the car exceeds the preset speed. There is also a speed limiter function that restricts the vehicle’s speed to 85 mph. Parents can also program the system to prevent the transmission from shifting out of Park until the driver fastens their seatbelt. There is an audio-system volume limiter, as well. GM’s /zigman2/quotes/205226835/composite GM -1.08% Teen Driver also offers an in-vehicle report card on the teen driver’s behavior.
Ford MyKey – Ford’s teen monitoring program initiates when a preprogrammed key is in use. As with GM’s technology, MyKey allows for restricting the vehicle’s speed and limiting the audio volume. The system can also provide a low-fuel warning, block certain explicit satellite-radio stations, and engage whatever active safety technologies are available.
Hyundai Safeguards Alerts – App-based, this teen-driver system works through Hyundai’s Blue Link connect technology. It allows parents to set speed limits, monitor speed, track the hours of operation, and even create travel boundaries that when violated, the system sends an alert.
Kia UVO eServices – Because Kia is a sister company to Hyundai, its teen-driver monitoring is essentially the same.
Toyota Guest Driver – Operating through the Toyota Remote Connect App, Guest Driver provides six teen-driver functions. It allows a parent to preset a speed limit and receive an alert if it’s exceeded. There is also a curfew function, a maximum-miles-driven limit, a maximum time of use limit, and a distance limit from a specific location. Violating any of those limits triggers an alert to the parent.
Volkswagen Security & Service Family Guardian – A feature of VW’s /zigman2/quotes/204431732/composite VWAGY +0.99% Car-Net subscription service, Family Guardian allows parents to set speed limits, travel boundaries, and curfews.