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Status Report, Vol. 42, No. 7 | June 15, 2007 Subscribe

Parents don't always pick the safest vehicles for their teens

A majority of parents understand some of the important criteria for choosing a safe vehicle for their teenagers, but many beginners are driving vehicles that provide inferior protection in crashes. These are the findings of an Institute survey of parents of newly licensed 16-17 year-olds in Minnesota, North Carolina, and Rhode Island.

Fewer than half of the parents surveyed said a teenager would be the primary driver of a vehicle. Parents already owned three-quarters of the vehicles designated for teens to drive. About half of the teenagers' vehicles were either midsize or large cars or minivans, types considered safer. About a quarter were mini, small, or sports cars, and the rest were pickup trucks or SUVs — vehicles that aren't recommended for teens. If parents already owned the vehicles, they were more likely to be midsize or large cars or minivans than if the vehicles were purchased new or used. A large majority of the teenagers' vehicles were older models. Up to one-third were 10 or more years old.

Most important factors in selecting vehicles for teens

Minnesota North Carolina Rhode Island
Safety of vehicle 22% 38% 20%
Already own vehicle 22% 13% 43%
Reliability of vehicle 7% 16% 7%
Low cost to buy, maintain, insure 13% 6% 8%
Size of vehicle 9%  7% 2%

When asked the main reason for selecting their teenagers' vehicles, the factors parents cited most often were safety, current ownership of the vehicle, and reliability. Fewer than 10 percent mentioned vehicle size. When asked what safety features they insist on, parents most often mentioned a frontal airbag for the driver or passenger or antilock brakes. Few parents cited side airbags or electronic stability control, despite strong evidence of the safety benefits of these features (see "ESC reduces multiple-vehicle crashes as well as single-vehicle ones," June 13, 2006, and "Surviving side crashes: Side airbags are reducing driver deaths," Oct. 7, 2006). At least three-quarters of parents said a midsize or large vehicle is safer than a small one. Even among parents who selected mini, small, or sports cars for their teenagers to drive, most still said midsize or large vehicles are safer. About 57 percent said SUVs aren't safe for teen drivers, and most attributed this to the tendency of these vehicles to roll over. About one-third of parents in Minnesota and two-thirds in Rhode Island said pickups aren't safe, citing instability or passengers in cargo beds.

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