Know a young driver who's ignoring your pleas to buckle up? Chevrolet suggests you might try to see if they'll listen to a different authority figure: their car.
The automaker is introducing a feature, specifically for teen drivers, that will temporarily block the auto from shifting into gear if their seat belt isn't buckled. A message will alert the driver to buckle up in order to shift into gear.
After 20 seconds, the vehicle will operate normally.
The feature, which Chevrolet says is an industry first, will come standard in the 2020 models of the Traverse SUV, Malibu sedan and Colorado pickup truck. It will be part of the "Teen Driver" package, which can also be used to set speed alerts and a maximum speed, among other controls, and give parents "report cards" tracking a teen's driving behavior.
Chevrolet explains how it works: "To use Teen Driver mode, a parent can enable the feature by creating a PIN in the Settings menu that allows them to register their teen's key fob. The Teen Driver settings are turned on only when a registered key fob is used to start the vehicle."
Teens have among the lowest rates of seat belt use, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with less than 60% of high school students saying they always wear their seat belts as passengers. Per mile driven, teen drivers also have the highest risk of getting in a fatal crash.
Chevrolet safety engineer Tricia Morrow, herself the mother of a teen driver, said in a statement she hopes the feature "will help guide more young drivers to wear their seat belts and encourage positive conversations among teens, their peers and parents."
A similar feature was available for some fleet customers who purchased GM vehicles in the past, but the new teen driver rollout is an industry first for consumer vehicles, Chevrolet says.
Research from the Highway Loss Data Institute found that Chevy's system of keeping the car in park increased seat belt use by 16%, compared to a vehicle that simply made a warning noise when a seat belt was unbuckled.
However, more recent research from the institute, which is supported by the auto insurance industry, has found improving warning sounds — making the beeping last longer, or even continue indefinitely — could increase seat belt use by more than 30%.
Lead author David Kidd, a senior research scientist at the institute, says the result was a surprise.
"We completely expected that restricting vehicle function in some way ... would be more effective than providing this ongoing beeping," he says. "But when it comes down to it, some of the main reasons why people don't use a belt is because they forget or they're going a short distance."
However, Kidd notes that those who are truly opposed to wearing seat belts might be more likely to be swayed by a car that won't move than a car that won't stop beeping.
This is not the first time the car industry has tried to use technology to improve human behavior.
In the 1970s, when seat belt use was much lower, vehicle manufacturers introduced ignition interlocks — devices to block cars from starting until the driver or front passenger buckled up — to comply with federal safety standards.
People hated them.
"There was so much pushback from consumers that Congress passed a law that drastically limited what the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration could do," Kidd says.
But in the decades since, laws requiring seat belt use have dramatically shifted patterns of behavior; nationwide, seat belt use has increased from about 14% in the early 1980s to about 90% today. Kidd says consumers are still wary of interlocks, but there's less opposition than there used to be.
And manufacturers are testing out other ways cars can more proactively promote safety.
Increasingly, vehicles are being designed not only to protect occupants in a crash, but to prevent crashes from occurring in the first place. In some cases, that means overriding human input, as in an automatic emergency braking system that will avoiding striking a pedestrian. In others, it means nudging human behavior, like with a driver monitoring system that will notice when drivers are distracted or drunk.