Study Finds Teens Driving Older, Smaller Cars at Risk

Christian Wardlaw | Aug 13, 2020

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), teen drivers crash four times as often as older drivers do. At the same time, they are more likely to be driving a lighter, smaller, and older vehicle that is less capable of protecting them in a collision.

Teen girl driving a car

“Despite everything we know about young drivers and crash risk, teens are still driving the least safe vehicles,” says IIHS Research Scientist Rebecca Weast. “Small vehicles don’t protect as well in a crash, and older vehicles are less likely to be equipped with essential safety equipment.”

Based on an analysis of fatal crashes between 2013 and 2017, the IIHS found that among teenaged drivers killed in accidents, those driving older vehicles were four times more likely to die than those driving newer vehicles.

The data also showed that nearly 66% of teens who perished were driving a vehicle between 6 and 15 years old, and that teens spent more than half of their time driving in a vehicle more than 11 years old.

Additionally, 28% of teens killed in accidents during that time period were driving smaller and lighter vehicles.

“It’s understandable that parents don’t want to shell out big bucks for their teen’s first car, and they probably don’t realize how much safer a newer, larger vehicle is,” Weast says.

Larger vehicles offer more protection due to larger crush zones and heavier curb weights, making them safer in collisions with larger vehicles such as SUVs and pickup trucks.

Newer vehicles are safer than older vehicles because they are more likely to have modern safety features such as high-strength steel construction design to absorb and deflect crash energy, standard safety equipment including a multitude of airbags and stability control, and driving assistance technologies like automatic emergency braking.

The IIHS also found that compared to data from 2008-2012, a greater percentage of both teens and adults were killed while driving older vehicles between 2013-2017, reflecting the positive impact on reduced fatalities due to increasingly standard safety features on newer models.

Learn more about which used vehicles the IIHS recommends for teen drivers.

The information in this article is from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. It was accurate on August 13, 2020 but may have changed since that date.

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