Teen Drivers & Older Cars: A Deadly Mix

December 30, 2014

We're still in the middle of holiday season, but parent of teenagers are already thinking ahead to spring -- specifically, to graduation and their kids' inevitable request for a car.

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If you're in that number, take note: the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has published a new report that may make you think twice about the vehicle you buy for your teen.

IIHS analyzed data on auto fatalities that occurred between 2008 and 2012, focusing on two groups of drivers: those in the 15-17-year-old range, and those 35-50. IIHS used vehicle identification numbers to determine the make, model, and model year of cars involved in those crashes.

What IIHS found was eye-opening, to say the least. Here are a few major takeaways:

 

  • Of the roughly 2,500 teenagers who died during the span studied, 82 percent were driving cars that were over six years old. In fact, 48 percent of teens killed were driving cars that were more than 11 years old.
  • A majority of teen fatalities took place in smaller vehicles: 29 percent occurred in mini or small cars, while 23 percent took place in a mid-size car. Only 10 percent occurred in large pickups, and just nine percent took place in a mid-size SUV.
  • Of the 19,000 middle-aged drivers who died during the period studied, 77 percent were in cars more than six years old, and 46 percent took place in cars that were over 11 years old.
  • The vehicles in which those drivers rode, however, were a very mixed bag. For example, 20 percent were mini or small cars, 17 percent were large pickups, 16 percent were mid-size sedans, and 11 percent were mid-size SUVs.

ALSO SEE: 2015 IIHS Safety Ratings: The Biggest Winners And Losers

In other words, it appears that the common factor in fatal crashes from 2008-2012 wasn't so much the type of vehicle involved (though it seems pretty clear that larger vehicles proved safer), but the age of those vehicles. Accordingly, IIHS has a couple of tips for parents when buying a car for their teen, namely:

  • Make sure that the vehicle has electronic stability control, or ESC. U.S. vehicles from the 2012 model-year and later are required to have ESC, but the feature was gradually phased in through model-years 2009, 2010, and 2011. In other words, if a car was built before September 1, 2011, it may not have ESC.
  • Make sure that the vehicle has airbags. Even when teens chafe at the idea of wearing seatbelts, airbags can protect them in accidents.
To simplify the process of choosing the right car, IIHS has posted a list of the "best" vehicles for teens priced below $20,000, as well as some "good" vehicles for teens priced below $10,000. All come standard with ESC, and they've all scored well on IIHS crash tests. Have a look and share your thoughts in the comments below. 

 

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