Dan Cohen, Senior Editor and Co-Owner of Gear Diary has always loved technology. On a recent trip with a major car company he discovered he loves driving fast.
The other day, one of my 17-year-old students came into my office holding up her driver's license. I playfully pretended to be afraid and said, "Watch out other drivers, Sally's on the road!" She took me a bit more seriously than I had intended and said, "No, actually I'm an excellent driver."
I looked at her and said that I was previously joking, but now I wasn't going to joke. "I have no doubt you may be an exceptionally careful driver," I said to her, "but no new driver is a good driver, let alone an excellent driver. Until you have enough experience behind the wheel so that object avoidance is simply a natural reflex, you can't be an excellent driver."
That was true when I got my license 30 years ago, and it is still true now.
I worry about my students when they get their licenses, and with the multitude of different distractions available in today's vehicles, I worry even more. If you have a new driver, it is worth considering what gadgets you will allow or require in their car and which you might seek to prohibit.
Here's our look at Five Gadgets every young driver's car should have, and two they shouldn't.
I was coming home from college late at night, and I lost my sense of direction. I couldn't figure out exactly where I was, and eventually I had to pull over and ask for help. Today's world is scarier than ever and, if at all possible, it is best if a young driver never need to be put into the position of having to roll down the window and ask for directions. Most people are kind and ready to help, but it is always better for a teen to be safe in a car with doors locked. Having a decent GPS available in their car will guarantee that your new driver never has to stop for directions; as an added bonus, it will help prevent them from getting lost. It is a small expense to pay for the added convenience and safety, not to mention peace of mind that it affords.
A Radar Detector
This may seem like a strange suggestion, but it actually makes a lot of sense. I have an Escort Passport Max Radar Detector in my car. Sure, it tells me when the police are using radar nearby, and it also indicates when there are red light traffic cameras, but that's not my main reason for having it. For me, the radar detector is more about being reminded when my speed starts creeping up more than anything else. I have mine set to 69 miles per hour, so that any time I go over that, I will get a gentle reminder to slow down. I can still ignore the warning, but at least I'm more conscious and aware when I do. For the new teen driver, I would recommend a radar detector with this feature, setting the maximum speed at whatever level you are most comfortable. I would then turn the volume up as loud as possible, so that when your teen (not IF but WHEN) goes over the speed limit, the sound will be so annoying they will be compelled to slow down.
A Hands-Free Speakerphone with Voice Prompts
At no time should your teen's hands have to touch a phone while driving. Ideally, they should never be speaking on their phone either. But if a call comes in, and they are going to answer it, having an aftermarket speakerphone with voice prompts will allow them to answer the call, say their piece, and then hang up without ever having to take their eyes off the road or their hands off the steering wheel.
Your teen driver will hate having something like the TrackPort GPS Vehicle Tracker in their car, but you will love the peace of mind it offers. The TrackPort, or similar devices, lets you instantly pinpoint a vehicle's location. This system offers 10-Second Updates, real-time speed, and location alerts through either Text or Email. Yes, your teen will feel like Big Brother is watching them, but knowing they are safe is worth any cold stares you'll get.
Seatbelt Cutter & Window Breaker Emergency Escape Tool
Hopefully your teen will never need this gadget, but if they get into an accident having this tool—that can break their window and cut their seat belt—it can be the difference between life and death. Like life insurance, it is the kind of thing you hope they never need, but if they do, you will be glad you spent the money.
And of course, the things a teen shouldn't have in their car:
An Aftermarket Stereo
Aftermarket stereos purchased by teens have a singular purpose—they are meant to be played loudly. Not only is loud, booming music in an enclosed space terrible for your child's hearing (I've discovered that the hard way), but also it will prevent them from hearing surrounding sounds such as emergency vehicles and honked horns. There is a caveat to this however, if you purchase your teen an older car remember it won't necessarily have the connections needed to hear their digital music so you just may wind up investing in an aftermarket stereo.
A Phone (Except with Caveats)
Phones in the car are dangerous, but phones in the hand while driving are even more dangerous. Since just about every teen has a phone, it isn't enough to simply tell them not to talk on theirs. One way to address this is to set up a fixed location for the phone that holds it securely, actually preventing the driver from looking at it. The perfect location is in the console; a close second is a fixed car cradle that holds the phone with the screen facing AWAY from the driver.
More technology in cars translates to more potential distractions. That's problematic for any driver, but is of special concern when dealing with a new driver whose reflexes behind the wheel have not yet fully developed. So while some technology can add safety and the ability for parents to monitor their child's behavior while driving, other technology can add to the danger of having a young driver on the road. This list is by no means comprehensive, but hopefully it will spark some thought, discussion, and debate about what you will and won't allow your son or daughter to have in the car when they begin to drive.