Does anyone remember the days when your parents would let you “drive” up and down the driveway? There we were, five years old, balanced precariously on their laps as they let us control the wheel. Little did we know, we weren’t actually doing much, as our parents always had firm control of the gas pedal and brake, and more than a slight hand on the wheel as well. For many children of the seventies and eighties, this was our first experience behind the wheel, and for our parents, it was a cute reminder that we were still little enough to think we were driving.
These days, however, you can barely have a child in the front seat of a car before they reach a certain age, much less allow them to pretend that they’re in control. Parents, back in the day, used to hand their children the car keys and allow them to make believe that they were starting the car as well. We’d sit there, barely clearing the middle of the steering, haphazardly jerking the wheel to the left and right, with no keys in the ignition as we played the part of the adult driver.
With the new advents in car technology, keys are becoming a thing of the past and rigorous safety standards have kept parents from allowing their children to play around in the driver’s seat when the car is moving. Kids these days still have the itch to drive, though. They still like to play in the front seat, rocking the wheel back and forth and making car sounds. In the age of push button start, is this practice more dangerous than it used to be, and should we be worried about the potential for the child to actually start the car?
The short answer is no, we probably shouldn’t be worried as toddlers lack the length of legs necessary to reach the brake pedal, a requirement for firing the ignition in a push button start vehicle like a Toyota Sienna or 4Runner. They also will typically lack the fine motor skills required to actually put the car in gear. However, explored in depth, the long answer is probably a resounding yes, that a child should never be unattended, even for a second, in a vehicle featuring a push button start. It’s all about calculated risk, and like it or not, these cars are a little bit riskier than a keyed ignition.
With a push button start vehicle, there are several requirements to get the engine to fire. The first is that the key fob must be within a certain distance and if it is not, the car’s button is essentially disabled. I’ve seen a lot of parents that allow their kids to play with the key fobs, though, because they really can’t do much with it. The two are a dangerous combination, whether we like to think about it or not. If the child is playing with that electronic key, they have complete access to the ignition of that vehicle, and if they have half a mind to do so, they can start the car.
Another feature of a push button start is that your foot has to be on the brake in order to fire the engine. So if you have a toddler sitting on the front seat while you strap another smaller child into a car seat, height is not on their side. They’re, most likely, not going to be able to reach those pedals. But think about it from this standpoint, what if the child decides to play on the floorboards of the car? If all of the stars align, they could easily start the car, and if you’ve got an older child with height on their side, they’re definitely going to be able to figure things out.
We think our push button start is fun and extremely convenient as we’re no longer left fumbling in the bottom of our purse for the keys, but they’re not foolproof. Parents will need to keep a closer eye on what their children are doing when it involves the family car, and precautions will need to be taken to ensure everyone’s safety. Don’t leave the fob lying around, always lock the car doors, and for added safety, use the emergency brake to ensure that they won’t be able to go far if the car is put in gear.
While push button start is an awesome convenience feature if you’re a single person, it will require a watchful eye for parents of curious kids. Of course, all of the circumstances would have to line up for a child, or children to get that car in gear, but kids have accomplished stranger things in recent years. Kids have a tendency to make mischief in the blink of an eye; any parent can tell you this. How many times as a parent have you started a sentence with, “I turned my back for a second and _______ happened”?