For many teens, getting a driver’s license and driving an old, beat-up (but affordable) car is a rite of passage. You may even have your own fond memories of driving around a used car that was practically falling apart when you were sixteen or seventeen. But while it may be commonplace for teens to drive older used vehicles, it’s not necessarily safe. If you’re the parent of a teenager who is soon to get their license and a car, you should put some consideration into the type of vehicle you allow your son or daughter to drive.
Recent research from The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reveals that the majority of teen drivers use older vehicles that have little crash protection and lack important safety features, such as electronic stability control. Electronic stability control is a life-saving feature that can detect when a car is skidding or about to skid and applies the brakes on individual wheels to keep the cars under control, but this valuable technology has only been mandated in new cars since 2012. The IIHS points out that electronic stability control can reduce fatalities in single-vehicle crashes by up to 50%.
As many as 28 million American parents buy their teenagers small or mini vehicles that don’t offer adequate crash protection, and more than half of all parents who buy their teens vehicles choose cars from 2006 or earlier, simply because that’s what they can afford. Many parents also save money by giving their teens cars that were already owned by the family, and two thirds of those vehicles were made in 2006 or earlier and lack the latest safety features.
Teens Are Demographic Most in Need of Safe Vehicles
While a lot of teens might say they don’t mind driving an older vehicle (as long as it can go fast), most parents are more concerned with safety—and for good reason. Because teenagers are just learning how to drive, they often lack the experience necessary to help them make good driving decisions and avoid potentially dangerous situations. Auto accidents are the leading cause of death for teenagers, and roughly 2,700 teens lost their lives in motor vehicle crashes in 2010 alone, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
In addition to being less equipped than adult drivers to recognize potential hazards on the road, teens are also more likely to speed and leave less following room between themselves and the vehicle in front of them, making them more likely to be involved in a serious rear-end collision if the vehicle in front of them suddenly brakes. Passengers are also a risk factor for teen drivers, as are distractions like smartphones. Add an older vehicle that lacks crash protection and safety features on top of all those other risk factors, and you have a recipe for potential disaster.
Finding Safer Vehicles for Teen Drivers
Parents of teens shouldn’t feel as if they need to eschew used vehicles altogether, especially if a new car is beyond the family’s budget. Rather, parents need to be discerning about the used vehicle they choose for their child.
If you’re shopping for a used car for your teenage son or daughter, look for vehicles with the highest safety rating. Any car you choose for a teenager should have airbags and electronic stability control to help protect the inexperienced driver if they lose control of the vehicle. And while larger vehicles may not be as gas efficient, they also offer more protection to occupants than a smaller car in the event of a crash. The IIHS also recommends choosing a vehicle with limited horsepower in order to make overzealous teen drivers less likely to speed.
One final thing that parents should watch out for when choosing a car is vehicle recalls. Parents should never choose a vehicle that has been recalled, such as the General Motors vehicles with faulty ignition switches that resulted in the deaths of at least 29 people, including a 16-year-old Maryland girl.
Although some parents might think that the safest vehicles are out of their price range, there are actually many reasonably priced options available. The IIHS recommends several different makes and models ranging from about $4,000 to $20,000, including midsize cars like the Mazda 6 and small SUVs like the Hyundai Tucson.
Used cars from 2011 or later may be slightly more expensive than the classic clunker that is the first car for many teens, but spending a little more is well worth helping inexperienced drivers stay out of fatal accidents.
About the Author:
Andrew Winston is a partner at the personal injury law firm of Lawlor Winston White & Murphey. He has been recognized for excellence in the representation of injured clients by admission to the Million Dollar Advocates Forum, is AV Rated by the Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory, and was recently voted by his peers as a Florida “SuperLawyer”—an honor reserved for the top 5% of lawyers in the state—and to Florida Trend’s “Legal Elite.”