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Jun 3 2014

Auto Technology: For The Worried Parents

The day that your teen receives his or her license can be bittersweet. There's an element of excitement knowing that they will no longer rely on you for rides. If they're not borrowing your car, it's even more convenient. On the other hand, many teens - including myself at that age - love the freedom that comes with having a drivers license a little too much.

Now that mom or dad is no longer in the passenger seat, there are so many rules to break! Many young new drivers want to experience driving at higher speeds, maxing out the radio volume, or whatever else wouldn't fly with their parents during the permit stage. The idea of their teen(s) being distracted while driving is terrifying to most parents, some more than others.

The Solution

Ford MyKey safety feature

Being a father of two teen daughters, Ford safety planning and strategy manager Andy Sarkisian could relate to the concerns of other parents raising their children from adolescence to adulthood. In 2008, Sarkisian and his team developed MyKey technology to help regulate some of these potential distractions mentioned above. This technology has become a standard feature since the 2010 Focus and is now available on many other models including the 2014 Fiesta. Upon researching ways to help teens drive more responsibly while still having freedom, the easily programmable MyKey system was created, consisting of five key features.

1. Persistent Ford Belt-minder

Whether intentional or not, many drivers often end up driving without a seat belt. Since new drivers are still in the early stages of developing habits, Ford has assured that they will be good habits. In addition to the annoying beeping and display screen reminders standard on most cars, MyKey takes it a step further and mutes the radio until the seat belt is buckled. Since music is such a crucial part of the driving experience - especially for new drivers - they'll have no choice but to put on their seat belts.

2. Volume Control

Now that the seat buckles have been applied, cruising to some tunes has been added to the equation. However, when the music gets too loud, the driver's focus on the road can easily be replaced with the distraction of trying to sing like the next American Idol. If volume control becomes an issue, MyKey can limit the volume to 44% of the audio system's maximum capacity.

If radio content is also a concern, there's an option to block all explicit stations on Sirius Satellite Radio.  

3. Speed Regulation

speed limitations with Ford MyKey

Have your parents ever told you that you drive with a lead foot? Though your parents may drive the exact speed limit, there's probably a good chance that you tend to drive above it. I think it's safe to say that every new driver at some point gives in to the temptation of flooring the gas pedal. It's only natural to test the limits of your car.

With MyKey technology, whether the new driver has a lead foot or just a lack of self-control, maximum speeds can be preset to 65,70,75, and 80 mph as well as audible warnings at 45, 55, and 65 mph.

This feature can also be used by fleet services that would like to promote better driving habits for their transport employees.

4. Do Not Disturb

Alongside the dangers of poor speeding habits, the use of cell phones while driving is one of the most dangerous distractions for all drivers. Even more so for beginning drivers since they hardly have any experience behind the wheel.

Paired with Ford SYNC, parents are able to block incoming phone calls and text messages temporarily while their teens are driving. With this non-interactive option, the temptation to pick up their phones will be much milder.

5. Earlier Low Fuel Warning

When the low fuel light pops up on the instrument cluster, each driver reacts differently. Some stop at the nearest gas station to make sure they won't be left on the side of the road, while others prefer to take chances and drive until the car is running on fumes. Ford MyKey has implemented an earlier warning light at a remainder of 75 miles worth of fuel, rather than the traditional 25-50 mile warning.

This is certainly a great feature for teen drivers that may not be as resourceful if stuck with an empty gas tank. An earlier fuel light warning will give more time to gather up some gas money or factor in a time to stop for gas.

Tied-in Features

MyKey is also compatible with other safety features available in the car. Since these intelligent vehicles can recognize when the modified key is used to start the ignition, they are capable of blocking the deactivation function for Park Aid and Blind Spot Detection with Cross Traffic Alert.

Not Enough Piece of Mind with MyKey?

Since Ford's goal with MyKey was to implement a technology that helps teens drive more responsibly while still having freedom, parents have no way of knowing exactly where their kid is or if they've gotten into an accident. Truvolo, a much smaller scaled start-up product on the west coast, can track each vehicle through its computer. Though this doesn't put much trust in teen drivers, it will certainly ease the minds of worried parents. Aside from the primary function of tracking the vehicle's speed and location, this technology can also calculate fuel economy and determine the internal issues tied to a check engine light.


Knowing that the concern for irresponsible young drivers continues to increase as more distractions - like smartphones - become accessible, Ford has done a nice job allowing parents to equip their kids with safer driving technology. The early years of driving are so important for developing responsible driving habits. Given that vehicle safety is such a big concern, especially for parents of young drivers, I'm sure many other vehicle manufacturers will add a similar system like Ford's MyKey technology.

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Photo Credits: State Farm, Michael Sheehan, Wendy Piersall

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