When pondering what type of vehicle to purchase for a teen driver, economics often enters into the equation. As a result, the teen’s new set of wheels is often small, older, and relatively inexpensive. Sadly, according to a new study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), that decision may prove to be a fatal mistake.
The IIHS conducted a five year review of fatal car accidents, which found that four out of five teens killed were driving cars that were at least six years old and almost half drove cars that were more than 11 years old. Furthermore, nearly one third of the teens killed were driving small or mini cars. Thus, many teens are driving, and dying in, the least protective types of vehicles. In addition, teens driving these types of vehicles are more likely to die in car crashes, compared to middle-aged drivers.
According to the IIHS, automobile accidents are the leading cause of death among US teenagers, and teens are three times more likely than adults to have a motor vehicle accident. In addition, teens are less mature and often more confident than adult drivers, leading them to drive over the speed limit and neglect to wear seatbelts. Du to their lack of experience, they are also less able to recognize and handle emergencies and hazards when they arise.
For the study, the researchers accessed data regarding fatal accidents from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System covering 2008 through 2012. They reviewed the types and sizes of vehicles driven by 15- to 17-year-olds who were driving when killed in a crash; they then compared results to drivers ranging from 35 to 50 years of age who died behind the wheel. In a sample of approximately 2,500 teens, 82% were killed in crashes while driving cars more than six years old and 48% drove cars more than 11 years old. Among the 19,000 middle-aged drivers killed, 77% were in vehicles more than six years old and 46% were in vehicles more than 11 years old.
The size of the vehicles involved in the fatalities differed considerably between age groups. Among the teens, 29% were driving a mini or small car and 23% were driving a mid-size car when they crashed. In comparison, 20% of middle-aged individuals drove a mini or small car and 16% a mid-size, when killed. In addition, older individuals were more likely to be driving large pick-up trucks (17% vs. 10% of teens) and midsize SUVs (11% vs. 9% of teens).
The authors note that newer vehicles tend to fare better in crashes than older vehicles, and are more likely to have safety features. A key safety feature is electronic stability control (ESC), a program that automatically applies breaks when the car skids. Another important safety feature is side air bags.
The IIHS is known for its ratings of new vehicles; however, for many families, a 2015 Top Safety Pick or Top Safety Pick+ is not in the budget for a teen’s vehicle. In a national phone survey conducted for IIHS of parents of teen drivers, 83% of those who bought a vehicle for their teenagers said they bought it used. With that in mind, the IIHS has compiled a list of affordable used vehicles that meet important safety criteria for teen drivers. There are two tiers of recommended vehicles: Best choices and good choices. Prices range from less than $5,000 to almost $20,000, so parents can buy the most safety for their money, regardless of their budget.
The IIHS recommendations are guided by four main principles:
Young drivers should avoid high horsepower. More powerful engines can tempt them to test the limits.
Bigger, heavier vehicles are safer. They protect better in a crash, and an analyses of insurance data reveals that teen drivers are less likely to crash them in the first place. There are no minicars or small cars on the recommended list. Small SUVs are included because their weight is similar to that of a midsize car.
Electronic stability control (ESC) is a must. This feature, which helps a driver maintain control of the vehicle on curves and slippery roads, reduces risk on a level comparable to safety belts.
Vehicles should have the best safety ratings possible. At a minimum, that means good ratings in the IIHS moderate overlap front test, acceptable ratings in the IIHS side crash test and four or five stars from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
Further information from the IIHS is available at “Safety rides shotgun: the best used vehicles for teen drivers.”