If you’re the parent of a teenager, you might have very mixed feelings about the day your teen gets a driver’s license. On the one hand, you’re proud that your teen has reached this milestone, but on the other hand, you’re worried about reckless driving and safety issues.
You have good reason to be concerned. Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among teens, according to the Centers for Disease Control, accounting for 36% of all deaths in this age group. In 2004, 4,767 teens ages 16 to 19 died due to motor vehicle crashes and during 2005, nearly 400,000 teens sustained nonfatal injuries serious enough to land them in the emergency room. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), per mile driven, teens are four times more likely than older drivers to crash. The Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.), together with the IIHS, advises parents of teenage drivers to do more than worry. They should take a proactive role in protecting their teens. This starts with selecting a safe vehicle:
- Avoid vehicles that encourage reckless driving. Teen drivers not only lack experience, they also lack maturity. As a result, speeding and reckless driving are common. Sports cars and other vehicles with high performance features, such as turbo charging, can encourage speeding. Choosing a vehicle with a more sedate image will reduce the chances your teen will be in a speed-related crash.
- Don’t let your teen drive an unstable vehicle. Sport utility vehicles are inherently less stable than cars because of their higher centers of gravity. Abrupt steering maneuvers — the kind that can occur when teens are fooling around or over-correcting a driver error — can cause rollovers where a more stable car would, at worst, skid or spin out.
- Pick a vehicle that offers good crash protection. Teenagers should drive vehicles that offer state-of-the-art protection in case they do crash. Review the IIHS and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration test results when selecting a vehicle.
- Don’t let your teen drive a small vehicle. Small vehicles offer much less protection in crashes than larger ones. However, this doesn’t mean you should put your child in the largest vehicle you can find. Many mid- and full-size cars offer more than adequate crash protection. Check out the safety ratings for cars in this group.
- Avoid older vehicles. Most of today’s cars have better-designed crash protection than cars of six to 10 years ago. For example, a newer, mid-size car with airbags would be a better choice than an older, larger car without airbags. Again, before you make a final choice on the car your teenager will drive, consult crash test results and safety ratings.
With time and experience, your teen will become a seasoned driver and move out of the highest-risk category. Incorporating these suggestions into your car selection will help him or her to get there, safely.