Chevrolet's new safety mode blunts teen spirit

Nora Naughton
The Detroit News

Chevrolet is offering a new safety feature that encourages young drivers to buckle up before they go.

The Buckle to Drive technology, which GM touts as an industry first, will debut on the 2020 Chevrolet Traverse. The new timed shift-interlock, visual and audible alerts add to an existing buckle-up reminder in Teen Driver mode: restricting access to the radio until the driver and detected passenger are buckled.

"Between the radio muting and our new industry-first feature the Buckle to Drive system on this vehicle, this really gives parents a little extra peace of mind," said Tricia Morrow, a safety strategy engineer for Chevrolet.

GM's Teen Driver safety technology debuted on the 2016 Chevrolet Malibu. The system, which tracks speed, tailgating, hard braking and use of active safety features to build a driver report card, is now standard technology on most Chevrolet vehicles. The new Buckle to Drive technology debuts on the 2020 Chevrolet Traverse and will later appear in the Malibu and Colorado.

Parents can receive a report card of their children's driving history with new technology from General Motors.

Morrow, a mother of two girls ages 14 and 9, is passionate about instilling safe habits in young drivers and has studied the best ways to communicate with your kids about safe behavior behind the wheel. She has worked with Chevrolet on a variety of safety initiatives over the last two decades and says she thinks about her daughters "every single day" in her job.

Morrow's oldest will turn 15 and start driver's training during what AAA calls the 100 deadliest days of the year — the summer period between Memorial Day and Labor Day — when fatal crashes tend to spike.

And young drivers are especially at risk. The crash rate for drivers between 16 and 19 years old is nearly four times the rate for drivers 20 years and older, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety data show. And the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that the majority of teens involved in fatal crashes aren't wearing seat belts.

"I have one that's still in a booster seat and one that’s starting to drive," Morrow said. "Every time I look at the field data — fatality statistics or child-seat statistics — I think, 'Oh my gosh my children are going to be in this environment, and what can we do to possibly make them safer?'"

The Buckle to Drive technology debuts as the Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning launched its annual "Click It or Ticket" ad campaign and a crackdown on seat belt use.

A new safety feature from General Motors aimed at teen drivers keeps the car from driving faster than 85 miles per hour.

Teens have the lowest rates of seat belt use, according to data on the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's website. The CDC found that only 59% of high schoolers in 2017 reported that they always wear a seat belt. And in 2016, 58% of drivers ages 15 to 20 killed in drunken-driving crashes were not wearing a seat belt.

Chevrolet saw an opening in those statistics. After Morrow and her team developed a pilot system of the shift-interlocking technology, they asked the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety to test its effectiveness. IIHS found the pilot system of Buckle to Drive increased seat belt use among part-time users by 16%.

"We were really excited to not only find an opportunity to increase seat belt use, but to have something that was proven to be effective," Morrow said.

Twitter: @NoraNaughton