Ford's MyKey System Puts Invisible Road Nanny With Teen Drivers

Ford is clearly trying to appeal to today’s car buyers, not tomorrow’s, by rolling out a feature ion 2010 models that can limit teen drivers to 80 mph, using a computer chip in the key.

In the feature, called MyKey, parents also have the option of programming the teen’s key to limit the audio system’s volume, and to sound continuous alerts if the driver doesn’t wear a seat belt. “Our message to parents is, hey, we are providing you some conditions to give your new drivers that may allow you to feel a little more comfortable in giving them the car more often,” said Jim Buczkowski, Ford’s director of electronic and electrical systems engineering. MyKey will be standard on some 2010 cars and trucks come out late next summer, and spread to the entire Ford, Lincoln and Mercury lineup as models are updated.

Ford arrived at the 80 mph limit even though freeway speed limits are lower in most states because it wanted to leave a margin in case an unusual situation arises, Buczkowski said. In some states, freeway speed limits are above 70 mph.

Parents will also have the option of having the car sound a chime if the teen exceeds 45, 55 or 65 mph.

The automaker’s own market research shows 75 percent of parents like the speed and audio limits. However, 67 percent of teens don’t like them.

But the feature could have a benefit to teen drivers besides the obvious safety aspect. Ford’s research shows that parents would be more likely to let teens use their vehicles with the system. If it gets them the car more often, the number of teens objecting drops by nearly half.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a research group funded by the auto insurance industry that is pushing to raise the minimum driving age to 17 or 18, found the key intriguing. IIHS says car crashes are the leading cause of death among teenagers.