Newer, Safer Cars May Save Teen Lives

Cheap cars for teens were often missing safety features and more prone to fatal crashes

(RxWiki News) You don't have to spring for the sports car, but you may want to invest in something modern to keep your teen safe on the road.

A new study found that teens who drive newer cars may have a lower risk of getting into fatal car crashes. The reason? Newer cars were more likely to come with standard safety features — like side airbags and electronic stability control — that older cars lacked.

Larger, heavier cars may offer better protection than smaller, lighter cars, the authors of this study said. They added that "Parents may benefit from consumer information about vehicle choices that are both safe and economical."

Anne T. McCartt, PhD, senior vice president for research at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) in Arlington, VA, conducted this study with Eric R. Teoh, MS, a senior statistician at the IIHS.

These researchers analyzed data from the US Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) between 2008 and 2012. FARS records data on all vehicle crashes on public roads throughout the US that result in at least one death within a month of the accident.

A total of 2,420 teen drivers, 15 to 17 years old, and 18,975 middle-aged drivers, 35 to 50 years old, were included in this study. Teoh and Dr. McCartt compared the types, sizes and ages of the vehicles teens drove to middle-aged drivers' vehicles.

They found that teen drivers in fatal accidents were much more likely than middle-aged drivers to have been driving a small or mid-sized car (52 percent versus 36 percent, respectively), and much less likely to have been driving a pickup truck (17 percent versus 25 percent, respectively).

Teoh and Dr. McCartt found that the vast majority of teen drivers (82 percent) in fatal crashes were in vehicles that were six years old or older. About 1 in 3 teen drivers (34 percent) drove vehicles six to 10 years old. About another 1 in 3 (31 percent) drove vehicles 11 to 15 years old. Nearly 1 in 5 (17 percent) drove vehicles 16 years old or older.

Fatally hurt teen drivers were nearly two times as likely to be driving an 11- to 15-year-old car than a middle-aged driver (12 percent), these researchers noted.

Teoh and Dr. McCartt also found that only about 1 out of 10 fatally hurt teen drivers had the standard electronic stability control feature in their car or were offered it as an optional feature.

In contrast, 15 percent of middle-aged drivers had the feature as standard or optional.

The electronic stability control feature is especially helpful when a driver loses control of the wheel — which isn't uncommon with teens who have just gotten their driver’s licenses, these researchers noted. Stability control lowers the chance that a single-vehicle crash will be fatal by nearly half, according to Teoh and Dr. McCartt.

For both teen and middle-aged drivers, only 36 percent had standard or optional airbags.

Because teens are more likely to be involved in fatal car crashes than older drivers, the authors of this study recommended that parents of teens invest in sturdy, newer vehicles equipped with standard safety features.

This study was published Dec. 18 in Injury Prevention.

The IIHS funded this research. Teoh and Dr. McCartt disclosed no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
December 18, 2014