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Wednesday, 08 October 2008 12:37

Ford not taking the mickey on teen driver safety, delivers MyKey

Think of MyKey as the ultimate car key to “parental control” in 2008, letting you set speed and audio volume limits for teen drivers among other safety features. It’s meant to deliver safer driving, improved fuel efficiency and increased parental peace of mind, while parents get their own key without the limitations.

Ford’s 2010-model Focus, due next year, will come with unprecedented safety features aimed directly at teens through the new MyKey system, before quickly becoming standard on “many other Ford, Lincoln and Mercury models” thereafter.

MyKey “allows owners to program a key that can limit the vehicle’s top speed and audio volume”, while also encouraging “safety-belt usage, provides earlier low-fuel warnings and can be programmed to sound chimes at 45, 55 and 65 miles per hour.”  

It’s all designed to encourage teenagers to drive more safely and more fuel efficiently, while increasing safety-belt usage, lowering driving speeds while making users more aware of faster speeds and helping to prevent ever running out of fuel.

Susan Cischke, Ford group vice president of Sustainability, Environment and Safety Engineering said: “Ford not only offers industry-leading crash protection and crash avoidance systems, we also are committed to developing new technologies such as MyKey that encourage safer driving behaviour. MyKey can help promote safer driving, particularly among teens, by encouraging seat belt use, limiting speed and reducing distractions.”

As you can imagine, parents of teen drivers surveyed by Harris Interactive Surveys for Ford say the system is appealing, with 75% liking the speed-limiting feature, 72% like the more insistent safety-belt reminder, and 63% who think the audio limiting feature (like on modern iPods and the iPhone) is a good idea.

Given that car sales in the US have tanked, especially now that the credit crunch has really hit, it would seem that better technology has come to the rescue of at least some sales.

50% of those “who would consider” buying a car equipped with MyKey also “said they would allow their children to use the family vehicle more often if it were equipped with the new technology.” 

The reasoning given is that: “the added seat time can help teens build their driving skills in a more controlled setting, complementing graduated licensing laws that give young drivers more driving freedom as they get older.”

What else did the survey uncover about safer driving, what are more technical details of the MyKey system, and what does it look like in a video? Please read on to page 2.

Parents were also worried about their teens using their phones to talk or text while driving, while the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says that “teens are more likely to take risks such as speeding – a contributing factor in 30 percent of all fatal crashes.”

When it came to teenagers being surveyed by Harris for Ford, they were unsurprisingly happier with a MyKey-equipped system that gave them “more freedom to drive”, although at first, 67% said they didn’t want the MyKey technology at all.

But after realising MyKey could actually mean “greater driving privileges”, only 36% were still against it.

Jim Buczkowski, director, Electrical and Electronic Systems Engineering, from the same team that developed Ford’s SYNC system (to integrated with smartphones and mp3/media players) in partnership with Microsoft said: “We’ve upgraded an existing, proven technology – the SecuriLock passive anti-theft system – with some simple software upgrades to develop a new unique feature that we believe will resonate with customers.

 “We also developed MyKey’s functions in such a way to quickly spread it across multiple vehicle lines, giving us the ability to go mass market in the spirit of other Ford innovations such as safety belts, stability control and SYNC.”

Parents can program MyKeys through the car’s “vehicle message center”, which then updates Ford’s SecuriLock system. The next time a MyKey is placed in the ignition, the SecuriLock system reads a special “transponder chip” in the key and then activates the MyKey safety features.

These include the “Ford Beltminder” with audio mute, which normally provides a “a six-second reminder chime every minute for five minutes”, although when a MyKey is inserted, the “Beltminder chime continues at the regular interval and the audio system is muted until the safety belt is buckled. A message center display “Buckle Up to Unmute Radio” also appears on the instrument cluster.”
Another feature is an earlier low-fuel warning, which warns you only have 75 miles of travel before the tank is empty, rather than the normal 50 miles to empty warning.

MyKey also ensures that the “Park Aid” and “BLISTM (Blind Spot Information System) with Cross Traffic Alert” features cannot be deactivated.

Other MyKey features available to parents include:

- Limited top speed of 80 mph
- Traction control system, that limits tire spin, cannot be deactivated
- Limited audio volume to 44 percent of total volume
- A speed alert chime at 45, 55 or 65 mph

Ford also says the MyKey system can help teens understand that driving slower improves fuel economy. 55mph driving instead of 65mph uses 15% less fuel, while avoiding “excessive idling” and “jackrabbit starts” can “improve fuel economy by more than 50%”.

You can see a video of the MyKey system in action at this BBC story on the Ford MyKey.


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Alex Zaharov-Reutt

One of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks on all the major news and current affairs programs, on commercial and public radio, and technology, lifestyle and reality TV shows. Visit Alex at Twitter here.



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