I have written on this subject before, but a caller to the nationally syndicated Car Pro Show this past Saturday prompted me to broach the subject again. A very nice and caring lady was contemplating buying herself a new Jeep Wrangler. Her plan was to give it to her granddaughter in three years when she turned 16. As much as I like the Jeep Wrangler, I strongly recommended against it for a young driver. As I pointed out, Wrangler has a high center of gravity and young drivers tend to over steer in panic situations, and that is the perfect mixture for a rollover accident.
I am sure I lost a future listener in the granddaughter, but if it saves her life it will be well worth it. There are many factors to consider when thinking about a car for a teen driver. Your little angel will swear he or she won’t text and drive, promise to obey the speed limit, and of course never be distracted by another passenger or the music system. You would be wise to assume otherwise, and do all you can to prevent an accident, one that could be fatal.
First, look at the numbers and do not be in denial. According to the Centers for Disease Control, teen drivers between 16 and 19 years of age are three times more likely to have a FATAL crash than drivers 20 years old or older. Those are not good odds my friends.
Other things to consider besides what I’ve covered above:
Horsepower: It is not just a guy thing, although I suspect boys do more racing and speeding than the young ladies. It is just too tempting if your teen driver has a car that has a lot of horses under the hood. Peer pressure is too great to “see what it will do”. Speed and inexperience are a fatal combination.
Safety Features: Cars get safer every year. Airbags and electronic stability control save lives on a daily basis. So do anti-lock brakes and many of the other technological features you find on cars these days. Check safety ratings on any prospective car by going to SaferCar.gov, and seeing how the car is rated. Frontal, side-impact, and rollover ratings should be your main considerations.
Age of Car: While I don’t recommend brand new cars for new drivers ever, I would not go too old either. The older the car, the fewer safety features it will have. Never put your teen driver in a classic car, those had virtually nothing but seat belts to protect you. That is just not enough these days. I would much rather see a teen driver share a late model car with a parent, than to drive an older car with fewer safety features. Again, look at the numbers: 80% of teen drivers killed were driving cars over six years old, and over half were driving cars over eleven years old.
Size Does matter: Almost 30% of teen driver deaths involved compact cars. A larger vehicle uses more gas, but the bottom line is the more metal around the teen driver, the better chance of survival in an accident.
Finally, set a good example as a role model for your teen driver. Don’t text and drive, obey all laws, and teach defensive driving. Make your teen sign a driver contract with the rules and the penalties spelled out.
Car accidents are the number one cause of teen driver deaths. As someone who has buried a child, I do not want to see anyone else go through this. Do your job as a parent or grandparent. There is a time to be your kid’s friend, and there is a time to be a teacher and role model.