Buying a “smart” car won’t make your teenage driver smarter

Buying a “smart” car won’t make your teenage driver smarter

Adam Nickell thinks his teenage daughter, who has already hit three hard objects with her car – thankfully without people or other moving vehicles – would do better with a car that’s equipped with blind spot warning/ lane change (notifies the driver when another vehicle is approaching from either side), lane assist (gently steers the car if it begins to drift back into the correct lane), backup camera display, backup warnings, pedestrian sensor, auto stop and a radio that won’t turn on unless all buckled. Said auto also has a computer program that monitors a teenage driver’s performance and can be activated without the teen’s knowledge.

The vehicle in question is a 2016 Chevrolet Malibu. Suffice it to say, Nickel’s article in the July 2016 issue of American Way, American Airlines’ in-flight magazine, was a blatant promotion disguised as a human interest publication. His point is that all this technology reduces distractions and makes driving for teenagers much safer, not to mention less anxiety-provoking for parents.

I know teenagers quite well. I was once. I’ve lived with two. I wrote a book about them and asked many questions related to them. Trust me, Nickel engages in wishful thinking. The problem is, his article is likely to convince anxious parents that the Malibu smart car is a wish come true. So, having concluded that Nickel was giving frankly dangerous advice, I decided to act as his defense.

In doing so, I’ll get straight to the point: Don’t buy your teen a Chevy Malibu that’s supposed to be teen-friendly. The car in question is not likely to – as the headline of the Nickel article promises – “steer young drivers away from dangerous distractions”. A teenage driver is more likely to think that the automated protections built into said car mean he/she doesn’t have to pay attention to what’s going on around him/her.

I can hear a typical teenage shrill protest, “But you told me, as did that salesman, that the car would tell me if I was about to hit something!” Assuming said teenager is still capable of protest. Let’s hope so.

What the seller did not say is that there are no guarantees that the system is not secure or fault-tolerant. That the auto-correct lane feature, for example, doesn’t work if the lane markings are unclear. That the automatic break device won’t stop you in time if you follow it too closely. That blind spot detection technology is not guaranteed to prevent an accident if, say, a teenage driver and a driver two lanes away from him decide to change lanes at the same time. And so on.

I know how teenagers think. On the one hand, they are highly inclined to take things literally. A parent buying a smart car for a teenager won’t be able to explain that the car’s technology is there to prevent an accident, and that the technology is no reason not to pay close attention all the time.

“A teenager will hear, ‘We bought this car for you because it has technology that will prevent an accident.'” That’s probably not what his parents told him, by the way. That’s what he heard his parents say.

So he gets behind the wheel of his new Malibu and something bad happens. Maybe he says to his friends, “Hey! You’re looking at this!” And instead of remorse, he became indignant. The car was to blame! That’s how teenagers reason. Nothing is their fault.

So when it comes to buying a car for a teenager, buy stupid. The dumber the car, the smarter the teenage driver. And vice versa. Come to think of it, out of every 10 stories I hear about teenagers wrecking cars, nine of them are new cars. Buy your teen a used car. At least 10 years. Used cars are not fun to drive. That’s the point.

Family Psychologist John Rosemond: johnrosemond.com, parentguru.com.

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