Greg Fulton thinks his teenage daughter, who's already hit three solid objects with her car - thankfully, no humans or other moving vehicles included - would do better with a car that comes equipped with a blind-spot/lane-change alert (notifies the driver when another vehicle is approaching on either side), lane assist technology (gently guides the car, if it begins to drift, back into the proper lane), a backup camera display, backup alerts, a pedestrian sensor, automatic braking and a radio that won't come on unless everyone is buckled in. Said vehicle also has a computer program that monitors a teen driver's performance and can be activated without a teen's knowledge.
The car in question is a 2016 Chevrolet Malibu. Suffice to say, Fulton's article in the July 2016 issue of American Way, American Airlines' in-flight magazine, was blatant promotion disguised as a human-interest piece. His point is that all of this technology reduces distraction and makes the teen driving experience much safer, not to mention less anxiety-arousing for parents.
I know teenagers fairly well. I was one once. I've lived with two. I've written a book about them and fielded many questions concerning them. Trust me, Fulton is engaging in wishful thinking. The problem is that his article is likely to convince anxious parents that the Malibu smart car is a wish come true. So, after concluding that Fulton was giving downright dangerous advice, I decided to act as his foil.
In so doing, I will get straight to the point: Do not buy your teenager a Chevy Malibu that's supposedly been teen-proofed. Said automobile is not likely to - as the headline of Fulton's article promises - "steer young motorists away from dangerous distractions." More likely, a teen driver will think that the automated protections built into said automobile mean he or she does not need to pay diligent attention to what is going on around him or her.
I can hear a typical teen's shrill protest: "But you told me, so did that sales guy, that the car would tell me if I was about to hit something!" Assuming, that is, that said teen is still capable of protesting. Let's hope so.
What the sales guy didn't say was that there are no guarantees, that the system is not fail-safe or fool-proof; that the automatic lane correction feature, for example, doesn't work if the lane markers are indistinct; that the automatic breaking device isn't going to stop you in time if you're following too closely to begin with; that the blind-spot detection technology isn't guaranteed to prevent an accident if, say, a teenage driver and a driver two lanes away both decide to change lanes at the same time - and so on.
I know how teenagers think. For one thing, they are highly prone to taking things literally. A parent who buys a smart car for a teen isn't going to be able to explain both that the car's technology is there to prevent an accident and that the technology is no reason to not pay diligent attention at all times. A teen is going to hear, "We bought this car for you because it has technology that will prevent an accident." That probably is not, by the way, what his parents said; 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! Watch this!" And instead of being contrite, he's indignant. It's the car's fault! That's how teenagers think. Nothing is their fault.
So when it comes to buying a car for a teenager, buy stupid. The stupider the car, the smarter the teen driver, and vice versa. Come to think of it, of every 10 stories I hear about teen drivers wrecking cars, nine of them are new cars. Buy your teen a used car - at least 10 years old. Used cars are no fun to drive. That's the point.
Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents' questions on his websites, johnrosemond.com and parentguru.com.