When my daughter Ava was 5, she drove for the first time. It was a friend’s battery-operated toy Barbie car. She got behind the plastic wheel, pointed it directly into traffic, shut her eyes, floored the “gas” and screamed. Those toy cars top out at 5 miles per hour, so I caught her before it ended in disaster. But I have since lived in dread of the day when she would get behind the wheel of a real car. Well, that day has come. Yesterday she enrolled in driver’s education.
She has grown up a lot since the days when she took all her driving cues from Powerpuff Girls cartoons. But I can’t shake the image of her careening obliviously toward her own doom. The thing is, driving is dangerous, especially for teens. Even if she never texts or drinks while behind the wheel and always pays attention, which is unlikely enough, there is no getting around the fact that she is an inexperienced driver. Because of all these factors, car crashes are the leading cause of death for teens in the U.S., taking the lives of 5,000 teens every year. “And, on average,” points out John Ulczycki, VP of Strategic Initiatives at the National Safety Council, “half of all teens get into some sort of crash before they graduate from high school.”
So when I recently sat down for a tour of the technology inside the new Infinity Q50, it was an emotional experience for me. I want to wrap my daughter—and my son, who has been driving for a year—in the safety technology in that car. Even if I’m not there to warn her, that car will slow down if she drives too close to the car in front of her. It will warn her if it senses the danger of a forward impact and, if she fails to respond to that warning, apply the brakes to reduce the severity of the crash. And it will keep an eye on her blind spot and alert her—and bring the car back into her own lane—if she is about to hit something there.
I can’t afford a brand-new Infinity. And even if I could, it would be pretty crazy to buy a high-end luxury automobile as a first car for a teen. “I am never going to recommend that a parent spend that kind of money on a car for a teen,” agrees Ulczycki. “But I would love to see the day when this sort of technology is affordable for parents.” That day will probably come. In fact, cars have gotten much safer in just the last five years. And a car that corrects my daughter’s driving mistakes might even get here before she goes shopping for a car. New car technologies are often introduced first in high-end vehicles and end up in more inexpensive cars within a few years. Meanwhile, I will let her learn on our big, old, slow minivan. But it is tempting to envelop it—and her—in bubble wrap first.
Christina Tynan-Wood has been covering technology since the dawn of the Internet and currently writes the Family Tech column for Family Circle. You can find more advice about buying and using technology at GeekGirlfriends.com.