Don’t Get Your Teen Driver A Car—Sharing Is Safer

September 25, 2009
U.S. lawmakers to get tougher on teen drivers

U.S. lawmakers to get tougher on teen drivers

At one time, perhaps a generation ago, some experts preached that car ownership for teen drivers was one of the best strategies for emphasizing responsibility and accountability. If teens had to manage maintenance and other costs for their own vehicle, the logic went, they would be more likely to become safe, attentive drivers—rather than hooligans drag-racing daddy’s car to the hamburger stand.

But today it’s clear that line of thinking is more flawed than ever. Sharing the family car, with some rules in place, is much safer, for a multitude of reasons. One of them: teens are more likely to drive older and smaller vehicles with less protection, and more likely to experience a rollover in an SUV, according to NHTSA. Another: parents are likely to cave in and compromise with a more aesthetically appealing but safety-compromised choice for a teen driver.

New research through the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), building on an AAP survey conducted in 2006, emphasizes the risk with getting a teen driver his or her own vehicle. Such freedom can lead to “a sense of entitlement about driving” and less cautious behavior, according to the new study’s lead author, Dr. Flaura Koplin Winston.

The 2006 study, covering more than 5,500 students at 68 high schools nationwide, found that 70 percent either had their own cars or were the primary drivers of the vehicle they used. Far more of those primary drivers—25 percent, the new study found—were involved in crashes. For teens with shared vehicle access, just 10 percent had been involved in an accident while driving.

In instances where parents had set rules and monitored when and where their teen drivers go, without being overly controlling, there were half as many crashes.

According to the Associated Press, the article has been published in the October issue of the AAP journal, Pediatrics, though it’s not yet available on the journal’s Web site.

“Families need to know that driving is different” from other steps toward independence,” commented Winston to the AP.

Motor vehicle accidents remain the leading cause of death for those aged 16 to 20. According to the AAP, teens 16 to 19 are involved in four times as many crashes as 30 to 69 year olds. Several studies have shown that the highest crash rate occurs in the first few months of driving.

The AAP attributes inexperience, risk-taking, teenage passengers onboard, and nighttime driving as other risk factors. And of course this is in addition to the chances of distraction from texting or talking while driving.

Nearly all states now have graduated driver-licensing programs, with limits on night driving and the number of teen passengers allowed in the first few months.

Further guidance? A set of 2006 recommendations from the AAP for parents still rings true today:

  • Give permission for them to obtain a license
  • Control access to the vehicle
  • Set family restrictions and punishments for infractions
  • Assure that the vehicle is safe
  • Be a driving instructor and supervisor or provide driving lessons
  • Serve as a role model for safe driving
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