Ford's new car allows parents to control speed, stereo volume

David Riley

After grinding through 50 hours of driver's education and training to earn a junior operator's license in Massachusetts, slipping behind the wheel alone for the first time is a sweet taste of freedom for many teens.

But soon, if the family ride is a Ford, young drivers should get ready to feel mom and dad's presence in the car a little longer.

Ford Motor Co. is rolling out a new feature on 2010 models that lets parents prevent the car from going any faster than 80 mph, limit stereo volume and subject junior to a persistent chiming noise if he exceeds other speeds.

Many local teens say they understand a speed cutoff, but interfering with the tunes? Annoying beeps every time the speedometer tops 45 mph? For some, it's almost enough to ruin the open road.

"A car is kind of like our freedom," said Christina Tessicini, an Ashland High School senior. "That would just be like controlling another aspect of our lives."

Parents, driving instructors and police quickly warmed to the idea, though some had questions about how much impact it would have.

"You can't stress it to them enough: You've got to slow down," said Mark Johnson, who owns Donohue's Driving School in Hudson with his wife, Kathy.

Ford's new feature, called MyKey, will debut on the 2010 Ford Focus and will become standard on many other Ford, Lincoln and Mercury models, the carmaker says. MyKey allows parents to program a special key the car's computer system reads when it is inserted in the ignition.

Other features include silencing the stereo system and sounding an insistent reminder until a driver buckles up.

A survey conducted for Ford found, predictably, that the device appealed to parents: 75 percent liked the speed cutoff and 63 percent like the audio limit. Two-thirds of teens said they would not like MyKey, but only 36 percent still objected if it led to greater driving privileges.

Alex Wilson, a senior in the parking lot at Ashland High, offered a similar view: "If it's a nice car, who cares?"

His mom, Robin, welcomed the idea, saying cell phones and other distractions can easily take a teen's mind off the road.

"From a parent's perspective, I would absolutely love it," she said. "We would love all the help you can get."

Senior Alex McNeil said at 16, he probably would have hated the technology, especially a chiming noise at certain speeds. "Say you're in the car and that happens, and your friends start laughing," he said.

Several teens said they would have no problem with an 80 mph cutoff, or even reminders to slow down at other speeds.

"I would be more nervous, but I would be more cautious of what I'm doing," said Ashland High senior Faith Kenney, who is taking driver's education.

Junior Paulina Corral said the device could help prevent accidents, and senior Andrew Moore said the device would have little effect on him because he already tries to drive safely.

"I think it's definitely a good idea for some drivers, because I know some obnoxious drivers," Moore said.

Others saw drawbacks.

Junior Luiz Santos said if a teen pays for a car himself, he should not have to submit to even more limits than the junior operator's license already sets.

As for stereo limits, "I like my music loud," Santos said.

Parent Helene Baum, attending a meeting at the Ashland High library, liked the concept. "I hate to feel we don't trust our children, but with all the accidents that have gone on ... we need more restrictions," she said.

MyKey does not address a problem that worries her more. "I almost wish there was a way to shut off their cell phones when they're driving," said Baum, whose son will be ready for driver's ed in December.

At Donohue's Driving School, Mark Johnson said MyKey would make more sense if parents could set the maximum speed, rather than pinning it at 80. Ford said it set the bar at 80 in case of unusual situations and because freeway speed limits are above 70 mph in some states.

Johnson said cell phones are the biggest problem he sees. "I think rather than stereo volume, they should take their cell phones away," he said. "They're sitting there text messaging."

Johnson also questioned how many parents would be buying their teen a brand new car or letting them take the new wheels for a spin.

Police welcome anything that limits distractions and reminds teens to drive carefully.

"It might not affect them at 80 mph, but if they have a car that has limits like that, that might drive home the importance of being in control of the car," Holliston Police Lt. Keith Edison said.

David Riley can be reached at 508-626-3919 or

The MetroWest Daily News