Toyota Takes on Teen Driving With 'Embarrassing Playlist' App


CARS.COM — What’s the best way to get a teen behind the wheel to mind their road manners better? Most parents would likely say a driving class or an app like Chevrolet’s Teen Driver that limits a young driver’s potential for recklessness. Toyota, however, has an app powered by another approach: shame.

Related: Teen Traffic Deaths: Is Best Offense a Good Defensive Driving Class?

Safe & Sound, currently available on Android for European drivers (and not just of Toyotas), is an app that not only does the sensible thing of blocking social media posts and incoming calls once a driver hits 10 mph or beyond — it also automatically switches to a Spotify playlist set up by parents or guardians once the driver breaks the speed limit or tries to use the phone.

“For teenagers, the threat of embarrassment is far more severe than the threat of injury,” said Jason Mendes, creative director at the app’s developer, Saatchi & Saatchi, in a statement. “That insight, we thought, was a powerful platform to create something that would cut through, make a difference and ultimately continue the conversation around safety.”

And oh, how it did — but for us here at Cars HQ, the conversation was around what you could possibly put on a playlist to embarrass a teen driver behind the wheel. We polled our staff to see what they thought might slow Generation Z down on humiliation alone — it turns out treating them like children was a recurring motif. Here’s what we came up with:

Brian Wong, L.A. bureau chief: “One thing that teens hate more than anything else is being reminded that they’re not adults, and there’s no better way to do that than with Kidz Bop. The good news is, these albums come out frequently, so you’ll have a massive catalog to choose from (there are 35 of them now!). My personal favorites are the ones with big lyric changes to make the songs rated G, as seen here on their rendition of Hailee Steinfeld, Grey and Zedd’s ‘Starving’ — I didn’t know that I was starving until I looked at you, indeed.”

Jennifer Newman, editor-in-chief: “I excel at embarrassing my teen and tween sons. If only this app would play a video of me singing and dancing some of my favorite hits from the ’80s, then we’d be talking about maximum embarrassment.

“For my playlist, I’d go with ‘Call Me Maybe,’ preferably by Kidz Bop and not Carly Rae Jepsen. Also, ‘Do You Really Want to Hurt Me’ by Culture Club — just for a heavy dose of mom-guilt delivered via the chorus.”

Matt Schmitz, senior editor-daily news:‘Tiptoe Through the Tulips’ by Tiny Tim. The only thing that could make this ukulele-core, falsetto-fabulous earworm creepier would be if Tiny Tim apparated into the passenger seat from the Great Beyond and crooned it to your heavy-footed kid himself.”

Patrick Masterson, copy editor: “If you’re paying attention to your kid’s taste in tunes, make sure your playlist is full of the cultural opposite of whatever it is they enjoy — Belle & Sebastian if they like Lil Yachty, Larry Levan remixes if they like Metallica, that kind of thing.

“A few specific notables from personal experience: William Basinski’s ‘The Disintegration Loops,’ hours-long ambient music inspired by 9/11, is a guaranteed downer even without the context; upon merely discovering that a 10-hour loop of the ‘Star Wars’ cantina band theme song existed, a friend once remarked, ‘This is my worst fear realized’ — and he likes those movies; the ‘Lamb Chop’s Play-Along’ theme, for similar reasons; Lou Reed’s ‘Metal Machine Music,’ which no teen could even pretend to enjoy; available audio of them when they were 7 years old; and anything cloying by Aaron Copland. Which is most of it.”

Evan Sears, assistant managing editor, photo: “The music to this aerobic video winning everything. No explanation required.”

Fred Meier, Washington, D.C., bureau chief: “In my experience: If the driver is a boy, anything by Taylor Swift about her various bad boyfriends will grate like press-on glitter nails on a blackboard. Oldies from pubescent teen heartthrob Justin Bieber — girls old enough to drive want to forget those years; boys always hated the guy.

“Another one from ‘Sesame Street,’ an unwelcome reminder of their not-so-distant childhood: Elmo’s cover of the Beatles’ ‘Drive My Car,’ with an upbeat ‘Elmo, you can drive my car.’ FYI: It’s from 1997’s ‘Best of Elmo’ album. Who knew he had a ‘best of’?”

Jen Burklow, assistant managing editor-production: “Burt Bacharach? Paul Anka? My parents’ music, not mine.”

Kelsey Mays, senior consumer affairs editor: “Awful songs for today’s Gen Z driver: Toto’s ‘Rosanna,’ Lionel Richie’s ‘Hello,’ Journey’s ‘Open Arms,’ Paula Cole’s ‘I Don’t Want to Wait,’ and Creed’s ‘With Arms Wide Open’ — though I don’t recommend these for other generations, either.”

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