On teen driver controls


I brought my 15-year-old son with me to help with my reporting for this story on GM’s Teen Driver Control, which will come out this fall on all but the most basic verion of the 2016 Malibus.

Also cut was a bit at the end where I wrote about my son’s reaction; he was very curious about the car, but once he’d seen it, he thought the whole idea of having one more way for his parents to control his life was a bad idea. My son’s a bit of a Holden Caulfield to begin with, and his comment afterwards was he thought he should put off learning to drive; it was too dangerous.

In the week or so that’s passed since I wrote this, I’ve been less enthusiastic about the idea of getting a report card on his driving. I feel a bit of sympathy for his worries about control, much like the parents in the survey I cite in the story, who didn’t even want to participate in a study about the technology. I initially thought that attitude reflected on when the study was done, in 2009. We live in a much more tech-pervaded world now, and why not use it to make teen driving safer?

But I remembered something that got me thinking. When I was 18 and in my first quarter at college, I went on a chicken run to Leon’s, a hot sauce joint that used to be at 69th and Stony Island on Chicago’s South Side. I got designated to drive. Bob wanted to come with me, to my dismay. He had been hitting on me since the start of school, and I really didn’t want to deal with his advances on a chicken run.

Bob and I hopped into some crappy Fiat or Ford belonging to one of the guys on our floor, who wanted chicken but didn’t want to stop studying. I had only been driving for a few months, having delayed driver’s ed until after my senior year in high school. I had never driven on anything like Stony Island, which has four lanes each way. To me it felt like a highway, only with occasional stoplights. They interrupted my goggling at the vast glory of Chicago, and it was more annoying that Bob was having to point them out to me.

I kept yokeling along looking at this and that when Bob screamed “look out!” I snapped my head forward to see I was hurtling towards a car stopped at one of those cussed red lights. I slammed on the brakes and yanked the steering wheel to the left. For the first and only time in my life I did a donut. We happened to come to a stop next to the car I had been about to ram. It was filled with young black men. I was hyperventilating from the near miss, but also aware that this neighborhood was not a place white university students were encouraged to go. I glanced over at them.

They were laughing, hysterically. They must have thought I was pulling some stunt in the middle of Stony Island Avenue. My breathing slowed, the light changed, and I kept my interest in the wonders of Chicago in check the rest of the way to Leon’s and the 14 blocks back.

In a gay romance novel, I would’ve kissed Bob, who had probably just saved my life and certainly saved me from wrecking a car that didn’t belong to me, in a neighborhood where the chicken and ribs are served through a slot in a bullet-proof window. All I did was say “thank you” over and over again.

That one would certainly have shown up on my Teen Driver Report Card. I can’t imagine having a constructive conversation about it with my father, though he’s a patient man.

My next car may not have a Teen Driver Report Card. But it will definitely have forward collision alerts.

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