It’s one of life’s great rites of passage – successfully obtaining a driver’s license. For some of us it happens almost as soon as we turn 16. It’s surprising, but these days, fewer teenagers are getting their driver’s license, and many people are now choosing to get their license much later in life. While 87% of 19 year olds in the US had their driver’s license in 1983, only 69% have their license today. Falling license rates have been attributed to the expense of owning and operating a vehicle, better public transportation, parents who are willing to do double duty as a chauffeur, and the ease of socializing with friends in a virtual world via electronic devices.
The Deadly Years
For parents, it can be a mixed blessing when one of their children gets their license. A blessing because they can finally get around on their own and parents don’t have to be taxi drivers anymore. A curse because learning to drive is dangerous and car accidents are the leading cause of death among young people. Inexperience, distraction, overconfidence, a natural tendency to take risks, and a healthy dose of horsepower can be a deadly combination in young hands.
83% of parents buy a used vehicle for their teenager but money shouldn’t be the primary consideration when you are shopping for a car for a new driver – you need to consider safety and reliability as well. When I was a teenager, a lot of the kids I knew went out and bought the cheapest vehicle they could find. We’re talking $150 vehicles here. They were tiny, rusty, and unreliable – tin cans on wheels with only lap belts for safety equipment. The only thing going for them were the minuscule motors most of them had. At least it was hard to get into a speed related crash in one of them.
Choosing the Right Vehicle
If there’s a new driver in your family, there are a lot of things that you can do to help ensure that they stay safer on the road, and if the unthinkable happens, they have as much protection as possible.
- Speed kills – as much as any teenager would probably love to have a Ford Mustang or a Nissan GT-R for their first car, horsepower and driver inexperience can be a deadly combination. Even experienced drivers can easily get into trouble in a high powered car (YouTube is full of videos of people smashing up very expensive cars because they didn’t know how to handle the power). Unfortunately, any driver eventually succumbs to the temptation of using all of the power a vehicle has to offer, sometimes with disastrous results. If you’re buying a car for a new driver, choose something with a moderate amount of horsepower.
- Newer cars are safer – according to the Institute of Advanced Motorists, half of the young men (under age 20) killed or seriously injured in car accidents drive vehicles that are 10 years old or older. Newer vehicles are equipped with safety equipment like Electronic Stability Control (ESC), ABS brakes, and advanced air bags. ESC helps drivers to maintain control on slippery roads or on corners. It helps to prevent the loss of control that can result in sideways skids that often end with a rollover. ESC cuts the risk of fatal vehicle crashes in half. When buying a car for a teenager, pay attention to Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) safety ratings.
- Bigger is better – in general bigger, heavier vehicles offer passengers better protection in a crash. That doesn’t mean you should run out and buy a first generation Hummer for your youngster though.
- Lay down the law and stick to your guns – if you have a young driver, set out strict guidelines and enforce them. Your kids might not like it, but it’s a good idea invoke a no driving between 9:00 pm and midnight rule. That’s when most fatal accidents involving young drivers occur. It goes without saying that you should enforce a strict no drinking rule. Also, be sure to talk to your young drivers about the dangers of texting or talking on their cell phones while driving. Distracted driving has now surpassed impaired driving as a cause of motor vehicle fatalities.
- Pickups and SUVs can be deadly in young hands – Jeeps and similar vehicles are a lot of fun to drive and kids love to cruise around in a Jeep with the top off during the summer. However, vehicles like pickups and SUVs are more prone to rollovers, especially if they aren’t equipped with ESC. Skidding sideways into a curb can easily send one of these high center of gravity vehicles tumbling.
- Don’t leave your kids stranded – no one wants their child to be stranded on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere when their 15 year old rust bucket breaks down on them. Buy the newest vehicle you can possibly afford for them. You might be surprised to know that the lowest priced new car in Canada is also one of the top rated cars for new drivers – the Nissan Micra.
The Internet is a Treasure Trove of Information
When the new driver in your family first takes control of the steering wheel, they enter one of the most dangerous periods of their life. You can help them to survive to adulthood by providing them with a safe, reliable vehicle. The internet is full of vehicle reviews and lists of the safest vehicles by year. Do your research, and you’ll be able to find the safest vehicle possible for your children at a price that might just surprise you.