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Should You Buy Your Teen A Safe Car?

I recently came across a couple of articles that had been inspired by some research put out by the British Medical Journal’s Injury Prevention* .  This research looked at the type, size and style of cars driven by teenagers who were killed in car accidents over 2008–2012, and ended with a recommendation that “Parents should consider safety when choosing vehicles for their teenagers.”  Automotive bloggers seemed to break out with the advice that parents should buy cars for their teenagers that had absolutely every safety feature, active and passive, under the sun.

Now, I am the parent of teenagers and young adults, both of whom drive.  I know that heartwrenching feeling when you know that your beloved son or daughter is heading out solo onto the roads, where horrible things can happen.  I’ve also had two of those phone calls that begin “Hi Mum, I’m all right but the car…”  (In both these cases, the car in question was owned by the teenager in question.)  I would be the last person to be reckless and to advocate putting your teenager in a tinny little piece of aluminium. Nevertheless, I’ve got one or two issues with those articles that other automotive bloggers have put out.

First of all, let’s look at that assumption that the parents are going to buy the car for the teenager – and the best thing is that you buy them one of the latest models with all the gadgets.  My reaction to this was “What?”  I don’t know what circles you move in, but even among the more well-heeled of my friends and acquaintances, very few of them, if any, are going to go out and plonk down a sum with five digits for a brand new SUV that will have the teenager’s name on the ownership papers although Mum and Dad are the ones forking out.  Do people actually do that?

Society is seeing a few problems coming from young adults entering the workforce with the idea that they can get the latest, best and most expensive without having to work for it, also known as an entitlement mentality.  My teenagers won’t and didn’t get something expensive of their very own without having to work for it and pay for it.  This was my first issue with a lot of those other articles out there.

Buying a car for the family that’s a new one and that’s got the right safety features, that’s another story, however.  I know that in our family, we did indeed go and purchase a big 4×4 with good safety features that our teenagers could learn to drive on.  However, the purchase of this car came with a little speech that stressed the following points:

  • The car in question is ours, not the teenagers’.
  • Use of the car is a privilege, not a right.
  • With privilege comes responsibility, such as keeping to the conditions of your provisional licence and paying for your own fuel.

Other families might like to add other things to this speech if following this course of action, such as expectations regarding running errands. You don’t want your teenager to turn out a spoilt brat who expects everything to be handed to him/her on a plate, so this sort of set-up is necessary.  Even if you are paying for the car for your teenager or young adult, they should contribute in some way so that they understand the value of that vehicle and treat it with respect (especially in the matter of things like servicing, changing the oil, etc.).

There will, of course, come the time when your teenager or young adult wants a car of their very own with their names on the papers.  Exactly what happens here will depend on your individual family and your circumstances.  Some parents buy the new car for their teen or young adult outright – usually something second-hand.  Others provide the funds for said car from the First National Bank of Mum and Dad with no interest.  Others leave their teen or young adult to make his or her own way, which is what my parents did.  I used bike, foot and public transport all through my tertiary education years, then once I was out in the big wide world of work, I took care of my own transportation needs.

If your teen or young adult (there really needs to be a word for your sons and daughters when they reach this stage of life – let’s refer to them as “young drivers”) is buying his or her own vehicle, it is very likely that this will not be one of the newest vehicles on the market for the simple reason that on the salary that one gets when leaving home and entering the workforce isn’t going to be enough to handle the repayments.  This leads to my second problem with those articles that recommend that parents buy a car with all the active and passive safety gear for their teenagers.

You see, during the early years of driving, you’re developing habits that might stick with you for life or at least a very long time.  If your car has blind spot monitoring, your young driver might get a bit slack about doing a head-check to make sure nothing’s in the blind spot.  If the car has front and rear parking sensors or cameras, your young driver might rely on these completely for parallel parking and not know how to do this manoeuvre relying on just the mirrors (double this in the case of parking assistance).  If your young driver learns how to drive on a car that “does it all for you”, then what’s going to happen when he or she purchases their own vehicle that doesn’t have said features?  Your young driver won’t know how to drive without all the aids, and that really is an accident waiting for happen and, in the long run, is more of a hazard.

So what’s a concerned parent to do?  How do you help your young driver not only stay safe but also learn how to be a good and skilful driver?

Let’s take a look at the original research again.  This research found that the majority of teenagers in question who were fatally injured were driving smaller cars – little hatchbacks.  Now, let’s face some facts: firstly, younger drivers are more likely to crash than older, more experienced ones (that’s biology and psychology); second, in a collision, a smaller car is going to come off worse than a larger one (that’s physics).  Straight away, this lets you know that if you’re helping your young driver choose a car in any way, from buying it outright to merely offering advice, then steering your teenager towards a larger vehicle such as an SUV, ute or stationwagon is a safer option.  There are the issues of fuel costs to consider, but there are some frugal SUVs out there.

The other thing that the research article found was that the teenagers who were killed on the roads tended to be driving vehicles that didn’t have certain features: ESC (stability control), airbags (especially side airbags) and side impact protection.  No mention of blind spot monitoring, cameras, autonomous braking or lane keeping assistance.  Just basic safety features that you’ll find in most vehicles from before 2006.  Even marques that aim for straightforward simplicity such as Great Wall  have these.

And that’s a relief in several ways.  It’s good to know that it’s not that hard to ensure that your young driver is behind the wheel of something safe – something safe comes in the form of a vehicle that’s sizeable and has basic safety features such as ESC, side impact protection and airbags.  And it’s really not hard to find a vehicle like this.  It’s also good to know that putting your young driver into a safe vehicle doesn’t end up producing long-term problems with drivers who haven’t learned how to drive without assistance but who own cars that don’t provide that assistance.

Of course, if you are not quite in the “parents of teenagers” stage but the years of having a learner driver in the family are looming, then maybe it’s time that you looked at your family vehicle and possibly upgraded to a nice new car (that will have your name on it!) so that you’re ready for those years.

 

*McCartt AT, Teoh ER. Type, size and age of vehicles driven by teenage drivers killed in crashes during 2008–2012. Injury Prevention 2015;21:133–136.

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