Teens Driving Old Cars: A Deadly Combo

Teen Drivers

A new study has some startling statistics for parents of teen drivers.

Forty-eight percent of drivers ages 15 to 17 who died in car crashes from 2008 to 2012 had cars that were at least 11 years old, and nearly a third (29 percent) drove small cars.

The study, authored by two Insurance Institute for Highway Safety researchers, chronicled the government’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System data from 2008 to 2012. It appeared Dec. 18 in the journal Injury Prevention.

At least in part, the statistics simply reflect the cars that teens drive. Compared to middle-aged drivers killed during the same span, the study notes that teens overwhelmingly drive smaller, older vehicles. What’s more, the researchers cite a survey of parents in May 2014 that found some 60 percent of teenagers drive cars at least 8 years old. In the FARS analysis, 82 percent of teens killed in wrecks drove cars that were at least 6 years old.

This much is certain: Older, smaller cars are generally less safe. Pointing to the density of deaths in a given group of vehicles, researchers noted that larger cars result in fewer deaths than smaller vehicles, and cars with better crash-test ratings are also associated with lower death rates. Older cars tend to have worse crashworthiness and fewer safety features like side airbags and electronic stability control, but parents often choose them for teen drivers because of affordability.

By today’s standards, both groups of cars in the study were thin on safety features. Just 7 percent of middle-aged drivers’ cars had electronic stability control as a standard feature, and just 3 percent of teen drivers’ cars had it standard. Side airbags came standard in 14 percent of the adults’ cars and 12 percent of the teens’ cars.

It could take years for that to change. IIHS said in 2012 that 91 percent of cars had standard electronic stability systems by the 2010 model year, up from less than 30 percent in 2005. Just 15 percent of all registered cars on the road had standard stability systems in 2010.

Put another way, it takes about 30 years between the point when the industry introduces a new safety feature (typically in a few luxury cars) and when it’s in 95 percent of the cars on the road, according to IIHS. At that rate, electronic stability systems and side airbags — both introduced around 1995 — won’t arrive in the vast majority of inexpensive used cars until well into the next decade.


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