Teenagers are bad drivers. Sorry, kids, it’s just how it is: insurance company GEICO says one in five 16-year-old teen drivers will end up in a fender bender. Here are the best tools to keep your new driver safe.
Naturally, the best way to keep a new driver safe is to give them as much pre-license training as possible, hammering in safe driving habits before they get on the road alone. But if you’d like to add a little more insurance (in the purely figurative sense, you’ll also need some literal insurance), you can kit out your car with some safety-focused tools.
In addition to all the specific tools below, you might want to check out our more general auto safety guide, which can benefit drivers of any age. We’d also recommend a dedicated GPS unit, which can help teen drivers get around without the distracting alerts of Google Maps on a smartphone.
To Erase Blind Spots: A Wide-Angle Rearview Mirror ($11)
Dealing with the reality of a car’s blind spots are one of the biggest hurdles for a new driver. You can make those spots a lot more visible with a replacement rearview mirror, offering a wider field of view that can peek through both rear side windows at the same time.
The perspective on these wide-angle mirrors takes a bit of getting used to since they make the cars immediately behind yours seem closer—but that will only make the driver more aware of that proximity. The model we’ve selected is cheap and easy to use—just clamp it over your existing rear-view mirror with the spring-loaded tongs. I’ve been using the same one for years.
To Squelch the Temptation To Text: A Faraday Phone Bag ($23)
A Faraday cage is an enclosure that blocks all wireless signals from going in or out. It seems hi-tech but it’s really just a wire-mesh with the mesh spacing tuned to block different electromagnetic waves. There are plenty of apps and services that attempt to stop you from being distracted by your phone on the road, but for drivers who are still developing their road awareness skills, we recommend this phone bag with built-in RF-absorbing material—a little Faraday cage you can stick in your center console, if you will.
The bag will make it all but impossible for new texts, emails, and instant messages to arrive while your teen is behind the wheel, while still allowing a cable through the velcro enclosure for battery charging or AUX audio. And if there’s an emergency, you can simply pull the phone out of the bag to restore all of its wireless powers.
To Keep An Eye On Their Driving Habits: The Automatic Pro OBD Tool ($130)
Part of the excitement of getting your first car is that sense of independence and freedom—but as any former-teen driver can attest you can have too much of a good thing. There are all sorts of OBD tools that plug into the standard diagnostic port of any modern car that can track things like location and speed, but we like the Automatic Pro for its excellent iOS and Android apps and its five years of 3G service built into the purchase price. That should see your teen through the most dangerous part of their driving time.
The Automatic Pro tool includes live remote GPS tracking, an accessible history of drives and trips, crash detection and alerts, and access to APIs for tools like IFTTT. (So you can, for example, get an alert on your phone when your teen driver gets home.) Automatic also includes free access to the License+ app, a training service that rewards teen drivers for good driving habits like smooth braking. Note that at the moment, the Automatic service only works in the United States.
To Keep A Visual Record: A Good Dash Cam ($140)
If your teen driver does get in an accident, it’s at least faintly likely that it wasn’t their fault. But you’ll have a hard time convincing any insurance inspector of that. Having a visual record on your side is the ultimate defense, and there’s no better way to do it than with a dash cam. We recommend the Vantrue OnDash X3 for most users, thanks to its high-resolution video recording, low-light performance, and built-in Wi-Fi for easy retrieval with a phone.
For a little more you can get a model that includes an interior camera (to see if the driver was, ahem, distracted) or a secondary camera for the rear of the car. The latter can also double as a handy backup cam, if your car doesn’t feature one already.
For When They Leave The Lights On: A Jumper Battery ($67)
“You should never drive anywhere without a set of jumper cables,” my parents taught me (and we’re sure you got a similar lesson). Letting the battery run down is a common mistake for new drivers, often stranding them until someone can give them a boost from another car.
But these days there’s an even better option: a portable battery that can give a gas or diesel car just enough juice to start up and get the alternator running, no second car needed. This DBPower model holds enough charge to start up the battery on a massive pickup truck or sports car a dozen times over, and you can get it recharged via a standard car DC outlet.
It’s handy for more serious emergencies, too, with a built-in flashlight and a 18000mAh battery that can give a boost to your cell phone if it’s dead. An integrated LCD lets you know when the jumper battery is full and ready to go into your trunk or glove box.
For An Unexpected Emergency: An Escape Tool ($15)
If the worst comes to the worst, your teen driver might be in a serious accident. If that happens, most of the time staying until help arrives is the right call. But if that’s not possible (like in a water crash or if the car can’t be moved from a busy highway), sometimes getting out of the car needs to be done quickly.
For those times, a combination seat belt cutter and window hammer is an essential tool. This gadget includes a recessed blade that will cut a seat belt without being a danger at any other time, and steel head that will shatter safety glass with just a few pounds of force. For less trying times, it also includes a digital tire gauge and a flashlight. Keep it within reach of the driver, like in a center console or a sunglasses compartment, for the quickest access after a collision.
Some New Cars Offer Teen Driver Tools, Too
Teens typically have to settle for borrowing a parent’s car or driving a used model. But if you’re planning on buying a new car for your teen, or one for yourself that your new driver will borrow, you might want to consider models that offer some built-in safety tools made specifically for teenagers.
Ford’s MyKey system (part of the Ford Sync package on some models) includes options that set maximum speed limits, maximum audio volume, more urgent gas warnings, and even limiting tire spin, based on which specific key is being used. Chevrolet offers “Teen Driver Technology” which can automatically turn on alerts for blind zones and detected collisions, limit speeds, and audio, or give a more gentle alert if a speed limit is breached.
Advanced car models from Hyundai and Mercedes-Benz can pull some of the same tricks, and even shut down the car if it goes out of a pre-set geographical zone when the teen is driving. These features are naturally a wee bit more expensive than our add-on suggestions here, but if you’re already in the market for a new car and have a new (or soon to be new) driver in the house it’s worth factoring into your purchase.