“Dad, I’m going to projectile vomit,” I hear my 15-year-old daughter, Noa, say from the passenger seat.
As I bend this 2017 Chevrolet Malibu into the back chicane on M1 Concourse’s 1.5-mile road course, in what I’m sure is a meaningful demonstration of cornering technique, I think to myself: How would she know what kind of vomiting she’d be doing?
And as I get out and give her the keys, I also think: Aren’t I the one who’s supposed to be nervous?
Aside from watching your daughter get on the back of a Harley Road King with a guy named Dallas, there’s little more petrifying to parents than handing over the car keys. Actually, a Harris Poll that Chevy conducted in 2016 revealed that driving unsupervised is parents of teens’ greatest worry. It’s a bigger concern than academic performance, drug and alcohol use, or even sex with guys named Dallas.
GM has devised a way to relieve some of that anxiety. It’s called Teen Driver, and the system became available on most Chevrolet models for 2017 (it’s still not available on Corvette or Equinox). We are here on this bright winter morning, as mutually freaked-out father and daughter, to check it out.
A sort of go-everywhere monitor for those wet behind the wheel, Teen Driver is a trick bit of software programming that does three things, according to General Motors’ Fred Huntzicker: First, it sets boundaries around some of the car’s capabilities, muting, for example, the audio system until both front occupants have clicked their seatbelts. The system also allows parents to set speed warnings, limit audio volume, and set an 85-mph top speed. Second, Teen Driver automatically sets all safety features to their least forgiving settings and makes them undefeatable—the young rascals can’t turn off stability control, traction control, or automatic lighting. Third and most essential, the system issues a report card that measures distance driven plus how many times the driver uses wide-open throttle, trips the speed warning, triggers forward-collision alerts, activates traction or stability control, tailgates another vehicle, and more. Basically, all the things that you, as a parent, stay up late about.
Ford has a similar feature-limiting system called MyKey, but it doesn’t offer the crucial report card, meaning you can’t shove anything in your kid’s face and say, “SEE?!?!?” Like Ford’s system, which is standard on most models, GM’s Teen Driver is built into all of its latest-generation infotainment systems (MyLink, IntelliLink, and CUE); it’s not part of some expensive safety package.
To activate it, go to the main screen menu, select the Teen Driver tab, and set your PIN. The PIN allows you to manage settings and access the report card. Then register your teen’s key by placing it in a nook in the armrest cubby. Simple. The system is on whenever the car detects that it’s been started with the Teen key, and the report card only collects data when that key is used. (A notable companion system to Teen Driver is what GM calls OnStar Family Link. It tracks the car’s location with NSA-levels of tradecraft, and it can issue emails about the state and location of a given vehicle.)
Noa drove first. I opted for the 85-mph speed limiter, figuring she’d come up against that on the track’s first corner. To my amazement, she not only never hit the limiter, she never even set off the speed warning I’d set at just 40 mph. (Her top speed was a lame but precise 39.8 mph.) Moreover, she actually followed my instruction as I showed her the racing line. Only 17 or so times did she turn to me and say, “Dad—will you stop talking?” Her report card was an unqualified A+: No WOT, no avoidance braking, no exciting of the car’s traction or stability controls. “So,” I asked her, “you’re trying to embarrass me?”
I fared much, much worse. I’d give myself a D- and not an F on Teen Driver only because I never put all four wheels off. But I definitely had the system dinging and ringing and tallying up the offenses like an accountant on tax day. I could swear I saw a faint plume of smoke issuing from the MyLink screen. “And that,” I told her, “is how you should never drive.” Man, that’s some Dad of the Year material right there.
Noa didn’t really agree with my self-assessment, but she did feel that the system performed its duty. “I was more aware of what I was doing when I was driving,” she said, which is the whole point. “I was really trying to pay attention to the gas and brakes. And even when the system dinged, it wasn’t annoying. Unlike you.”