The Chevy Malibu used to conjure up images of teen rebellion. The late '60's/early '70s SS muscle car was the go-to backroads drag racer for more than a few adolescents. And while the latest incarnation is more "grocery getter" than rumbling rocket, it still has four wheels, which means kids will figure out a way to put their lives in danger while behind the wheel. GM wants to curb that.
With the 2016 edition, the Chevy Malibu has added a new setting called Teen Driver. Once enabled, the feature lives in the infotainment system in the dash and warns underage drivers when they exceed a predetermined speed limit. At that point, it kills sound from the stereo until the front seat belts are buckled, enables all the safety features like traction control and generates a report card for the whole trip. It's basically a computer narc tucked behind a four-digit PIN.
While the cues to teenagers can be helpful, it's the report card that's going to do the most good here. For example, just because parents have instituted a speed limit of, say, 55 miles per hour, that doesn't mean their child isn't blowing through 35-mile-per-hour school zones. The real-time warning still relies on the driver to follow a rule. Most of us might remember from our own years in high school that once we got away from authority figures, a few in-car warnings wouldn't have slowed us down.
But parents can use the report card to make decisions about future access to the car and use it as an opportunity to talk about their kids' driving habits. And because it offers up hard evidence -- such as when a safety system like stability control was activated and the top speed -- a parent has the information necessary to make that conversation count.
If I had a teenage driver, I'd want this sort of system in whatever car I let them drive. I was incredibly reckless in high school. It's a miracle I only wrecked one car. But because I was alone or with friends, my parents never found out about my behavior (well, except for that one accident). Teen Driver adds consequences to actions both in real time and afterward.
After driving the Malibu for a few days, then, it's clear that it's not the muscle car it used to be. Instead it's a sensible family vehicle that's trying to keep some members of your family from hurting themselves.