Why You Should Let Your Teen Drive the Newer Car
Chances are, your “good” car will keep your teen safer than the old clunker
Watching your teen drive by himself for the first time no doubt instills some degree of panic. You’re worried about his safety, of course. And truth is, you’re probably also a little worried about your car — which is why you’re temped to have him drive the aging vehicle in your driveway (or buy him an old battleship) and not the shiny one in your garage. But that might be a mistake.
Teen drivers are prone to accidents (no surprise there). According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), they have crash rates three times those of drivers age 20 and older. And generally speaking, newer cars are safer — and protect drivers in crashes better — than older ones.
“Older vehicles, obviously, do have less safety features in them,” says Kathy Bernstein, the senior director of teen driving initiatives at the National Safety Council. “If a teen is going to drive a car, the safest car for a teen to drive is a car that belongs to the family, not to them.”
Here are three reasons why it’s likely better for your young driver to use the family car instead of an old clunker.
1. Newer cars have more safety features. “When it’s time to buy a car, it is best to spend as much as you can on safety,” says Dr. Ruth Shults, senior epidemiologist in the Division of Unintentional Injury Prevention at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That means making sure that the car has:
- Electronic stability control. “Of all the safety features that have come online in recent years, electronic stability control [ESC] is vital, particularly for teens,” says Bernstein. According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, ESC “helps drivers maintain control of their vehicle during extreme steering maneuvers by keeping the vehicle headed in the driver's intended direction, even when the vehicle nears or exceeds the limits of road traction.” Inexperienced drivers are susceptible to running off the road, and ESC is vital to helping them recover. Cars have been required to have the technology since 2012.
- Side airbags. In addition to front airbags, “try to get a car that has side airbags,” Shults says. “Just in case the car is involved in either a T–bone crash or a rollover, they’ll have that protection.”
2. Using the family car means restricted access. “The best thing that families can do is to wait as long as they can to buy the kid a car,” says Shults. “As long as they’re driving the family car they tend to drive a little more conservatively, they tend to have less access — and exposure is a problem for teens.” It’s harder to regulate a teen’s driving habits when he has his own car. If he drives the family car, you can decide when he’s ready for added responsibility and driving privileges.
3. The family car is, well, a family car. The less flashy the car (and the less horsepower it offers), the better it generally is for teens. “Kids don’t need to be in a muscle car,” says Bernstein. “Big, slow and ugly is what you want to put your kid in.” The more extravagant the car, the more temptation there might be for the teenager to drive recklessly. “You don’t want to put a kid in a small car or a sports car,” Shults says. “They’re safest in probably a four-door sedan or an SUV with electronic stability control.” If the family car doesn’t fit this bill or you want to buy your teen a used car, Shults recommends checking out the IIHS’s list of best used cars for teen drivers.