Safer vehicles for young drivers

A lack of road safety knowledge among parents can mean life or death to young people on our roads.

Most parents would do anything to keep their children safe. Yet when it comes to choosing a vehicle for their children, many parents don’t consider safety when helping them make their choice. Dr Shane Turner, Technical Director – Road Safety at Abley, suggests there is room for improvement.

Road crashes are the highest cause of death for young people globally

Even in developed countries like New Zealand, it is one of the top killers of our youth. Deaths on our roads are over-represented by young drivers and passengers in the 15-24 year age bracket. They are involved in a quarter of crashes yet represent less than 10% of drivers. The crash rate of the 15-19 age group is six to eight times that of the safest age group.  

Vehicle choice

While parents are often involved in driver training, most pay little attention to the type of car they choose for their children. Where does safety rank alongside fuel economy and affordability? How many parents think they are doing right by their children by handing down older, smaller cars with a lower safety rating – even an old banger? Do parents consider the higher crash risk among young people in such decisions? Research by Otago University indicates that only one in five parents consider safety when choosing a vehicle for their children.  

Vehicle safety star rating

The safety star rating of a vehicle is critical in preventing death. People are 60% more likely to die or be seriously hurt in a two-star rated car than in a five-star rated car. Young people are much more likely to drive lower-star-rated vehicles (one and two-star) than their parents, despite their increased risk of crashes. Research by Monash University indicates that if all young people drive the safest cars, road deaths will reduce by 70% among this group. A safer car could save your teenager’s life – especially in the first 6 to 12 months of driving (Figure 1), where inexperience and risk-taking behaviour are lethal. There is a trend in New Zealand toward larger cars with a higher mass (weight).  In high-speed areas where the collision force is greater, the difference in mass between a large and small vehicle can significantly affect the level of harm to occupants.    

Share the family vehicle

Sharing the family vehicle with teens is safer than letting them drive their lower-star-rated cars.  My older daughter is a wedding photographer and frequently travels to the countryside for weddings. Most of the time, my travel is on lower-speed roads, as I live near the central city. I also have forty-years of driving experience compared to her three years of driving experience. She drives the four-star rated car when she travels out of town, while I drive our smaller lower-star-rated vehicle around the inner city. When I go on higher speed roads, we swap.        

Graph learner drivers crashes
Figure 1