There are things I did as a teen driver that I'm glad my parents never knew about. Like the time I was so busy chatting with a friend, I nearly caused a head-on collision. Or the time a classmate had his music playing so loud, we didn't notice an ambulance approaching. Or the time my stunt-driving date drove us into a ditch and we had to hitchhike to a pay phone. I could go on, but my parents might be reading this.
Back then, there was no graduated licensing. We turned 16 and, if we passed our tests, we were free to drive as poorly as we liked. These days, kids can't get away with anything. With technology, it's possible to know a teen's every move, including when, where and how fast they were made.
Don't trust your teen behind the wheel? There are a number of companies willing to help you spy – er, monitor your child's progress. Options range from simple apps that prevent texting while driving to fancy GPS-based devices that can set geographic boundaries, limit the car's radio volume and send curfew alerts.
Even car makers are in on the action. Ford's MyKey, standard on most models, lets you program a key for teens that prompts chimes for such infractions as forgetting to buckle up or exceeding a top speed of the parent's choosing. It can also block explicit radio stations and prohibit deactivation of certain driver-assist features. Chevrolet is launching Teen Driver for the 2016 Malibu, with a built-in report card that lets parents check on the maximum speed reached, distance driven and the number of times active safety features were engaged.
If this all sounds amazing and you're ready to start tracking your teen, you may want to think again, says Sara Dimerman, psychologist and author. The Thornhill, Ont.-based mom of two girls who are 16 and 24 says if you're relying on technology to keep your children safe on the road, it could mean you don't think they're ready. After all, teens tend to make impulsive decisions, which can be either life-threatening or life-saving behind the wheel, she says.
"If you genuinely feel that your child does not make responsible decisions or doesn't think things through or doesn't have the level of maturity at 16 that someone else might have, then you need to discuss that," Dimerman says. "If you feel that you have to micromanage every aspect of your child's driving, I'm not sure your child should be driving at all."
While driver monitoring is intended to reduce parents' fears, it could actually heighten a child's anxiety, Dimerman warns. If teens feel scrutinized and under constant watch, they may not be the most calm-headed drivers.
There are plenty of reasons for parents to feel anxious, Angelo DiCicco says, general manager of the Toronto-area Young Drivers of Canada. Each year in Canada, more than 2,800 deaths result from motor vehicle collisions, and 350 of them involve teens. When a teen driver has two or more passengers, collisions rates increase 500 per cent, but if the passenger is a parent, the rates do not increase.
DiCicco says he suspects monitoring teen driving could have a positive effect, at least initially, but he's not aware of any research that backs that up.
Parents who decide monitoring is the only way they're comfortable letting their teens drive should make sure to use the technology's feedback as part of an ongoing conversion in which they focus on how their child's driving has improved over time, Dimerman says. That conversation should include questions about how the teen should behave in different situations – why they shouldn't blast the radio, why there are laws about the number of teens in a car and why there is zero tolerance of alcohol, for example.
Parents could even make it a family challenge and monitor their own driving, Dimerman says. They might discover they need to ease up on the accelerator and put down the cellphone themselves.
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