Volvo or Tank? How To Protect Your Teen Driver

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by Lisa on January 15, 2015
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One of the scariest thoughts to me is seeing one of my two daughters driving away in a car. At ages 5 and 7, I have a while before that day comes. I often say to my husband “just so you know, they are either going to be driving a Volvo or a tank.” Those two girls mean everything to me.

With that thought in mind, I decided to do a little research on what folks are doing these days to prepare their children for the biggest responsibility they have ever faced. My father used to tell me that driving a car is like holding a gun because it can be just as deadly as a bullet.

He wasn’t wrong. Here are some of the most recent stats published by the Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association:

  • In 2012, 60 percent of deaths among passenger vehicle occupants ages 16-19 were drivers.
  • Fifty-three percent of motor vehicle crash deaths among teenagers in 2012 occurred on Friday, Saturday or Sunday.
  • Teenage motor vehicle crash deaths in 2012 occurred most frequently from 9:00 p.m. to midnight (17 percent).
  • In 2012, 60 percent of deaths among passenger vehicle occupants ages 16-19 were drivers.
  • The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety released a report in May 2012 that showed that the risk of 16- or 17-year old drivers being killed in a crash increases with each additional teenage passenger in the vehicle. The risk increases 44 percent with one passenger; it doubles with two passengers and quadruples with three or more passengers. The study analyzed crash data and the number of miles driven by 16- and 17-year olds.

The roads are getting safer for teenagers.

Look at these stats from RMIAA:

  • A total of 2,823 teenagers ages 13-19 died in motor vehicle crashes in 2012. This number is 68 percent fewer than in 1975 and 7 percent fewer than in 2011.
  • About 2 out of every three teenagers killed in crashes in 2012 were males. Since 1975 teenage crash deaths have decreased more among males (72 percent) than among females (56 percent).

Why are the roads getting safer?

All states have now implemented a three-stage graduated licensing program. Many have placed restrictions on the number of passengers a teenage driver may have in the car, including how many passengers under the age of 21 may be in the car.

A 2006 study by Johns Hopkins found a 20% reduction in fatal crashes involving 16-years olds in states with a graduated driving license program. Important components of a GDL program include limits on night time driving and numbers of passengers allowed in the car.

What should parents be doing?

Regardless of the specifics of your state’s GDL program, it’s a good idea for parents to think seriously about what rules will be in place in your household.

Successful graduated driving programs include:

  • Ensuring a significant number of hours driving with a parent or guardian in the vehicle before the teenager is allowed to drive independently.
  • Limiting independent driving (i.e., driving without a parent or guardian) to day time hours initially.
  • Limiting the number of passengers allowed in the vehicle, and specifically, limiting the number of passengers under the age of 21.
  • Not allowing cell phone use of any kind while driving.

There are many driving programs available for new drivers. One such program is TeenSmart This program uses software that the student uses at home and includes driving exercises to be done with a parent in the car. Many insurance companies offer lower rates to those who complete this program.

Many areas also have driving schools that help students to prepare for the driving exam and go beyond exam preparation to make them safe drivers. One such program is Put on the Brakes. The program includes accident avoidence, wheel drop-off recovery, panic stop, and car control and recovery exercises.

In Sharon Silke Carty’s article So, think teen driving schools are the only answer? Think again she covers the history of driver’s education and some important things to look out for when selecting a driving school for your child.

When it comes time for your child to learn to drive, take it seriously. Set your rules for your child, especially if you live in a state that doesn’t limit night time driving or number of passengers. Help your teenagers study and be certain they know all the rules of the road.

Don’t assume because they’ve been riding in a car with you they’ve absorbed all of the rules of the road. In most states, 50-70% of applicants fail the written test. Find online practice tests that will highlight topic areas that your child needs to review in your state’s Driver’s Manual and that you may need to explain further. DMVCheatSheets offers both review sheets and online practice tests for each state, in English and Spanish.

Recommendations for the Safest Autos for Teenagers

As it turns out, my gut instinct, to buy a Volvo or a tank for my teenager, wasn’t so off. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has found that many teenagers are driving used vehicles that do not offer the safest crash protection and safety technology.

Many parents purchase used vehicles for their teenagers and have budgets below $10,000. The IIHS encourages parents to consider what they are buying the vehicle for and to consider increasing the budget if possible, as often, a safer vehicle can be purchased with more money.

Minicars, small cars and cars with high horsepower are not recommended for teenagers.

Click here for a link to IIHS vehicle recommendations for teenagers.

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