Chevrolet‘s latest safety feature has the driver’s well-being in mind, especially teens.

In May Chevrolet announced Buckle to Drive, which would be included in the 2020 Traverse, Malibu and Colorado models that would go on sale the following month. Buckle to Drive requires drivers to put on their seatbelts before they can shift the car out of park. Coupled with Chevy’s Teen Driver Technology, which today is on all new Chevrolet vehicles, it brings even more safety limits.

“If you get into that vehicle with Teen Driver active and try to shift out of park without your seatbelts on, you’re actually locked out of shifting for 20 seconds or until you put your seatbelt on,” Tricia Morrow, Chevrolet’s safety strategy engineer, said. “(We’re) really trying to drive those safe driving habits into teens.”

Morrow, who is based in Detroit, spoke on that topic and more during her visit to Atlanta and the Neighbor’s Northside office Aug. 23 for a press junket. She said the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration states seatbelt use is at about 90% among all drivers, but much lower among teens.

“There’s a study by the CDC where teens self-reported their seatbelt use, and it was only around 59% of the time that they said they wore their seatbelts,” said Morrow, who has a 15-year-old daughter. “So we saw a tremendous opportunity with teens to increase seatbelt use and really create good habits right from the get-go. … Almost half the fatalities we see in vehicles are people not wearing their seatbelts. So it’s really important, the number one thing you can do to protect yourself in a crash.”

Teen Driver, which was introduced in 2015, gives parents the ability to program their child’s keys with set limits on the car’s speed, radio volume and other functions. It also includes an in-vehicle report card, introduced in 2016 as an industry-first feature, which shows how the teen driver did on their most recent trip.

“It’s designed to give parents a little extra peace of mind when they’re on the road that they are a little bit safer in their vehicle,” Morrow said. “Also, (with) the in-vehicle report card, you can actually have a data-driven conversation with your teen about safe driving. Not only is the parent able to see how the teen drove, but also the teen can use it as a tool to show their parent what a good driver they are.”

Another Chevy safety feature is Rear Seat Reminder, which was introduced as an industry first in 2017. If someone opens the back seat to place anything there, such as a child, pet or briefcase, and then later turns a vehicle system off or the engine off, the car will give five distinct chimes with a message in the driver information center computer screen stating, “Rear Seat Reminder. Look in rear seat.”

“Especially as safety engineers, as advocates, especially as a mother, we look at the field data and try to figure out what’s going on out on the roads,” Morrow said. “So we know that about 40 kids every year die (due) to these heat stroke-related fatalities, and about half are forgotten in the back seat.”

According to the Kids and Cars website, 889 children died in hot cars nationwide from 1990 through 2018 (including 53 last year), and only 17 died before 1990.

Earlier this year Congress introduced two versions of the Hot Cars Act, which would require new vehicles to have some sort of alert system to let drivers know they left something in the back seat, to keep from children or pets dying in hot cars.

The House version, House Resolution 3593, was introduced in June and has been referred by two committees and one subcommittee but has not been voted on yet by the House. The Senate version, S. 1601, was introduced in May and assigned to the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, which ordered to be reported without amendment favorably. But it has not been voted on yet by the Senate.

Morrow said the issue of children dying in hot cars started in 1998, when passenger airbags became standard in all new cars, causing automobile companies and safety advocates to recommend children be placed in the back seat to avoid injury or death caused by airbags deploying during a car crash.

She said high-profile hot car child death cases, such as the 2014 Cobb County one where Ross Harris was convicted of malice murder in the death of his son Cooper, impacted Chevy’s push for Rear Seat Reminder.

“We designed Rear Seat Reminder with children in mind,” Morrow said. “… (The item you left there) could be your lunch. It could be your briefcase or your laptop, but it could be a pet or a child, (so) we really need to be, especially in these hot months, extra vigilant.”

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