Whether Ford is trying more to decrease death rates for teen drivers or to sell more cars to concerned parents is not clear. NHTSA explains that crash rates for 16-year-olds are 10 times higher than rates for drivers in the 30-59 age group.
A computer chip in the vehicle's key (much like the one already used for theft prevention on many models) tells the car's electronic powertrain management software when the teen driver is aboard and makes powertrain, entertainment, and safety system adjustments appropriately. Explaining the 80-mph limit, Jim Buczkowski, Ford's director of electronic and electrical systems engineering, said, "just lopping it off at exactly 70 mph was felt to be too limiting." Buczkowski claims that the suite of electric limitations may help parents of teen drivers with Ford/Lincoln/Mercury products feel "a little more comfortable in giving them the car more often."
The vehicle's maximum limit is always set at 80 mph when the system is active, but parents may select their preferred radio volume and also engage repeated alert chimes if the driver does not fasten his or her seatbelt. Finally, a speed alert chime may be set to sound at 45, 55, or 65 mph.
We wonder if the system can alert parents when their teen is breaking or bending the rules like Tiwi can. Even with a muted stereo and warning chimes galore, a teen driver bent on aggressive driving can do plenty of damage at 80 mph and below.
While perhaps a nice supplement to good driver training, Ford's MyKey seems a poor substitute for live parental oversight or the good old-fashioned grounding.--Colin Mathews