Teen drivers trading down in vehicle safety

July 21, 2014

New research says that many teenagers are operating cars that lack significant safety technology or good crash protection, reports the New York Times. The research, released last week by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, also notes that while teenagers are already at a higher crash risk regardless of what car they drive, the risks are even higher when teens drive small cars and sports cars.

teen driver

A New York Times study shows that teens are buying less safe vehicles in order to save money. From State Farm.

The new study reveals that those teens killed in crashes while driving are more likely than adults the same age as their parents to be operating cars that are smaller and older. “Larger, heavier vehicles generally provide much better crash protection than small ones, and older vehicles are less likely to be equipped with proven safety enhancements like electronic stability control and side air bags,” reports the Times. “Also, the study notes, vehicles’ crashworthiness has improved over time.”

According to the report, 29 percent of drivers aged 15 to 17 who died in fatal crashes were driving small or mini cars, as opposed to 20 percent of drivers aged 35 to 50. Eighty-two percent of teenage drivers killed in crashes were driving cars at least six years old — as opposed to seventy-seven percent of adults. Teen driver fatalities in cars from six to 10 years old comprise thirty-four percent of total fatalities, while 31 percent of teen driver fatalities occurred with cars from 11 to 15 years old, and 17 percent in cars at least 16 years old.

The research also shows that middle-aged adults who were killed in crashes were more likely to have been driving newer cars; 23 percent of fatally injured middle-aged drivers were operating cars no older than five years, as opposed to 18 percent of teen drivers. “But even when teenagers were driving relatively new cars — less than three years old — 57 percent of those were small cars or minicars,” notes the Times.

What’s a minicar? A vehicle weighing between 2,000 to 2,500 pounds, such as a Mini Cooper. A small car would be a Toyota Corolla, for example. Teens are more apt to drive cars that are dangerous for them: IIHS reports that in a national phone survey targeting 500 parents of teenage drivers, mini or small cars were the most popular car to buy for a teen.

“It’s understandable that many parents don’t trust their children with an expensive new vehicle, so they give them an old car or buy the cheapest new car they can find,” Anne McCartt, IIHS senior vice president for research, said in the report. “What they probably don’t realize is that they are compromising their teenagers’ safety in the process.”

How can parents choose safer cars for their teens? The Times reports IIHS’s  four key recommendations:

  1. Bypass cars “with a lot of horsepower” to limit the temptation to speed.
  2. Opt for “larger, heavier vehicles,” as these offer improved crash protection.
  3. Choose a car with electronic stability control. This helps drivers to stay in control while driving curvy or slippery roads.
  4. Once you’ve narrowed your search, choose the vehicle with the highest safety rating.

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Category: Automotive, Road safety

About the Author ()

Katy is a writer, reporter and editor who, in addition to writing for RoadTrafficSigns, has worked with the United Nations Development Programme, Hamptons magazine, Hearst Corporation, The Daily Mail, People Magazine, and a variety of other publications and nonprofits. After graduating with honors from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in 2011, and distinctions on her thesis and in the consumer journalism seminar, she moved to Milan, Italy. In Italy, she worked as a writer and consultant for an international magazine, editing and translating text and reporting on such events as the Salone Internazionale del Mobile, the annual design fair. A born and raised New Yorker, she has lived in three of five boroughs, relying quite a bit on public transport until getting her driver's license at the admittedly belated age of 21.

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