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Ford’s MyKey: Who Says Parents Can’t Control Your Speed?

And turn that radio down!
Today’s teens have grown up in a world of fluid and ever-expanding technology, with their parents using everything from V-chips to internet blockers to teddy-bear babysitting cams to GPS trackers to keep better track of them. For many, it is simply part of their world. Parents and kids have the same trust issues to sort through, just the same as when I was a kid and didn’t think my mom had any right to go through MY dresser, but parents have more direct tools at their disposal now.
Add one more to the arsenal. Ford is introducing the latest electronic nanny next year (2010MY) across several model lines, including the Focus. The system will be a no-cost option or standard equipment, depending on model. It turns out to be an inexpensive way to help teens stay focused in early driving years, when they are the least experienced, and for parents to feel better about teens driving.

The system is pretty ingenious. It uses basically the same chip in keys that holds anti-theft information to store driving control information. The feature is all software driven and uses technology the car comes with anyway. One of my first questions was how much replacement keys would cost; it turns out that replacing a MyKey is no more expensive than replacing an non-MyKey. Most modern keys have some type of anti-theft chip in them these days, so getting a new key cut at Aco is out of the question anyway.
The system allows parents to set limits in areas identified as the most distracting or most likely to contribute to teen accidents. Most elements MyKey affects can be programmed, so the system can be tailored to the needs of that parent and teen. And when the system isn’t necessary, the MyKey settings can be wiped clean to leave just a normal key. Ford expects parents and teens would only use the system for one or two years, and then want to go back to the normal setup, so made sure this could happen with minimum fuss and no cost.
The low cost is great, but its flexibility is even better. Parents have the options to be as intrusive as they’d like to be, for the features the key regulates, and don’t have to feel Ford is choosing what should be important for all families. Typically, two keys come with a car; either of them can be set as the MyKey or the administrator. Other parent-friendly touches include an odometer tracker; when the administrator key is in the ignition, the mileage driven with the MyKey can be viewed.
The unchangeable settings are a persistent seatbelt reminder, an earlier low-fuel warning, and parking and visibility aids like next year’s Cross-Traffic Alert and Blind Spot Information System cannot be deactivated (when equipped). The permanent seatbelt chime continues at regular intervals until the seatbelt is clicked in. Even better, audio is muted until the seatbelt is put in. No seatbelt, no radio creates a terrific way to encourage seatbelt use and help kids form the habit early on. The earlier low-fuel warning (75 miles to empty instead of 50) is as much to help parents as kids by making it tougher to leave parents short of gas because Junior didn’t fill up.
Settings are programmed through the message center in the instrument cluster, and when the MyKey is in use, messages specific to that key display there. There are three programmable settings. Parents can choose to limit the top speed to 80mph, or not. Parents can choose to limit the audio volume to 44 percent of total volume, or not. And parents can set alert chimes at 45, 55, or 65mph, or not. As with any parking aids the car may have, traction control systems cannot be disabled if a MyKey is in use.
If the speed limiter is set, warning messages as the car gets near the speed show up in the message center as well. Ford seems to think having the 45, 55, 65 mph alerts will help kids be more attuned to their speed, drive slower, and therefore save fuel, but the saving fuel part seems to be a stretch.


Convincing the Kids
As you might imagine, Ford did much research in developing this system. That is where, among other things, the seemingly obvious observation that kids today are used to electronic nannies and more accepting of them was proven. They may have the same “Why don’t you trust me?” fights with their parents, but understand that the issue is with their parents and don’t seem to resent the device that enabled the expanded parental control.
Ford also found parents more willing to let teens get behind the wheel more and for longer periods with MyKey; they also speculate that parents might be more willing to let teens take the newer, nicer car, since it has these extra protections. When sending that out for a teaser, teen acceptance of MyKey rose dramatically. If teens were convinced they would save money on insurance or that their parents would let them drive more, they said they were willing to use it. And the teen in the household can then get his/her own key. Instead of asking Mom & Dad for the family keys to the car, they have one that can be just theirs. Even if it comes with some conditions, what sixteen-year-old doesn’t feel cooler with his own car key?

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