The 2016 Chevy Malibu, which debuted Wednesday at the New York Auto Show, contains a new feature that tracks driving performance and helps inexperienced drivers rein in some of their more dangerous habits.
Accessed through a password in the car's infotainment system, parents can learn how far their child has driven, how fast they've gone and how many times they've braked hard, among other features.
"It's an in-vehicle report card that gives parents information," says Mary Ann Beebe, one of the lead engineers who designed the system. "It's meant to be used as a teaching tool. Parents can sit down and talk with their teen about, 'Here are some areas where you're doing well, and here's some where you can use improvement.'"
Car accidents are the leading cause of death for teens ages 16 to 19, and only last week, AAA released a study that found their driving behavior can leave them particularly susceptible to crashes. General Motors had sought ways to help educate and train younger drivers. In an era where data can be harvested from cars, monitoring performance is one way to provide information.
Parents access the Teen Driver system in the car through a PIN-number entered into the Malibu's infotainment system. The report card can only be seen in the car – so far, it's not available via a smartphone app, like some other types of on-board diagnostic information.
The system is activated by the use of a specially programmed key fob that lets the system know who is driving the car. Once the vehicle recognizes the key fob, it takes preventive measures to ensure safer conduct behind the wheel: Until the driver and front passenger buckle their seat belts, the radio is muted. Safety systems such as forward-collision assist and electronic stability control are automatically turned on.
Parents can preset preferred speed limits, and drivers will hear a warning if that sound is exceeded.
"We have these great technologies, and we want to make sure we turn them on for the teen," Beebe said.
There are no geo-location aspects of the program, and data is stored on the car, not uploaded to the Cloud or even seen by General Motors, she said. In the future, there's the possibility customers could share the data with third parties like insurance companies to gain favorable rates – but only if they opted into such a program.
Currently, GM has a partnership with Progressive Insurance in which OnStar users can choose to share collected data with the company's Snapshot usage-based insurance program, though a GM spokesperson stressed the Teen Driver program is not equipped for similar sharing, nor are there plans to do so. But even without data, families with Teen Driver-equipped Malibus might still win lower rates based on the feature's presence in a vehicle alone.
Right now, protecting driver privacy is a hot-button issue for the auto industry, since a federal government report concluded automakers don't adequately disclose how and when they collect and share driver data.
Teens would know they're monitored under the Teen Driver feature – a message appears on the dashboard of the Malibu when it starts when the teen key fob is used.
So far, the Teen Driver assist is only available on the Malibu, but Beebe said she expected it would soon be available on more cars in the GM lineup. It is not a subscription-based service. It would remain on the vehicle permanently and comes standard on the premier trim level and is optional on the LT model.