Toyota Touch Tracer in the 2010 Toyota Prius
Toyota Touch Tracer in the 2010 Toyota Prius
Toyota Touch Tracer in the 2010 Toyota Prius (top); with Ford’s MyKey, a warning tone can be set to sound when the vehicle reaches certain speeds. Click image to enlarge

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By Jim Kerr

Over the past couple weeks I have looked at some of the automotive technologies available on new vehicles for this year. Every year, the Technical Committee of AJAC (Automobile Journalists of Canada) chooses the best new technology from among the contenders submitted by the vehicle manufacturers. So far, we have taken a behind the scenes look at the Mercedes-Benz Attention Assist system and the Audi Drive Select system. This week we look at two more entries: Ford’s MyKey and the Toyota Prius Touch Tracer.

Ford’s MyKey system has created a lot of discussion. The premise behind MyKey is the ability of parents to program the system to modify vehicle operation for new drivers. Some who have experienced it think it is great. Others think it is a bit like “Big Brother watching”. Several have said that their teenage drivers could be trusted, but then there are others who are not always sure who their children are riding with and would appreciate having the MyKey system on someone else’s vehicle too.

This discussion could go on forever, but there are a few indisputable facts. First, new drivers are involved in a proportionally high percentage of accidents. Second, the teenage brain is maturing, but during that process there are times when everything just doesn’t connect together correctly – ask any parent! Normally rational and intelligent teenagers can make rash and incorrect decisions, especially if there is peer pressure.

Just think about what you would say to a new driver about to drive away on their own. “Watch your speed. Put on your seatbelt. Lower the radio volume. Don’t spin the tires. Fill it with gas.” MyKey addresses some of these concerns.

At the heart of the MyKey system are programmable keys. One key is designated as the administrator key and up to seven more keys can be programmed as MyKey keys. Programming a key only takes a few seconds and is done with the driver information system on the vehicle. Once programmed, the administrator can monitor the mileage accumulated on each key.

The administrator (vehicle owner) can turn the MyKey feature on or off. With the system activated, the audio system doesn’t play unless front seatbelts are buckled – we know teens can’t possibly drive without tunes! The passenger sensing system is used to determine if the passenger seat belt needs to be buckled but rear seat passengers are not monitored.

Ford's MyKey can prevent radio operation while the driver's seatbelt is unbuckled
Toyota Touch Tracer in the 2010 Toyota Prius
Ford’s MyKey can prevent radio operation while the driver’s seatbelt is unbuckled (top); Toyota’s Touch Tracer in a 2010 Prius. Click image to enlarge

The key also limits top vehicle speed to 130 kilometres per hour (80 mph) and chimes speed reminders at 72, 88 or 105 km/h. The vehicle traction control can no longer be deactivated, so you don’t have to worry about spinning tires. Finally, the low fuel warning now comes on when the remaining range is 120 kilometres instead of the regular 80 kilometres. There is less chance of an inexperienced driver running out of fuel.

MyKey is standard equipment on a wide range of Ford and Lincoln products, so this new technology could be an important part of learning to drive for many new drivers.

Toyota’s Touch Tracer is part of the steering wheel control feature on the 2010 Prius and it takes steering wheel controls to a new level. On the steering wheel there are two circular controls, each with several buttons. The left side is for audio control, while the right side is climate, trip meter and display information control.

When the driver touches the steering wheel control button, very slight pressure on the button causes the Touch Tracer system to display the controls on the instrument cluster, high on the dash. The button that is being touched is illuminated on the display and as you slide your finger around the controls, the display follows by illuminating the button your finger is touching. When your finger is touching the correct button, a little push will choose that selection.

The Touch Tracer display keeps the driver’s eyes up, instead of looking down at the steering wheel. In busy traffic or difficult driving situations, keeping your eyes up and on the road are important.

Currently, Touch Tracer is only on the 2010 Prius and only used for steering wheel controls, although I could see this technology expanding rapidly. Imagine that every time you touch a control button, it magically appears on the gauge display. Operating controls without having to look down at them would be much easier and safer.

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