My son is 15 and has a permit to drive.  I guess it’s the age of freedom.  For now, his freedom is limited to my wife’s car.  He’s certainly not going to scratch or dent mine!  But what happens a couple years from now?  Our daughter will be driving by then, too.  Maybe they will have part-time jobs or volunteer work.  They’ll need to be driven to go out with friends more often.  They won’t want mom or dad to be driving them all the time and neither do we.  And, they’ll no doubt be wanting their own car, because you know, according to them, all their friends will have their own car.  The IIHS just released a list of vehicles recommended for teens, but most are nearly $10,000 or more.

For many of us, this seems like an appalling idea.  Spoil your teen with their own car?  Spend all that money for someone who likely won’t have any sense of pride in ownership because they didn’t pay for it, or at least not the majority of it?  Provide a vehicle to someone with limited driving experience who is just going to get into a fender bender or worse?  While one or two kids in the area may drive shiny new sports or luxury cars, most seem to be driving old sub-compact cars their parents picked up for under a few thousand dollars, much less than the least expensive IIHS recommended model.  Many kids drive a hand-me-down compact or midsize sedan from mom or dad, who then bought a newer car.  Or maybe the teen did save some money and was allowed to pick out their own car.  Most likely used car, maybe a sporty coupe or hatchback with lots of consideration for horsepower and little about safety.

But is any of those a wise choice?  After all, driving is the single riskiest thing that teens do.  They aren’t experienced.  They are more often distracted by friends and devices.  They have the youtful sense of immortality, leading to very poor choices.  As a reward, we’ve armed them with a lethal weapon, and put them in an arena with road-ragers and distracted drivers who are always in some huge hurry.  Is it really wise to let them use the oldest and cheapest vehicle available?  Or the sportiest and fastest pocket rocket they can afford?

In the child passenger safety world, we often tout a mantra of, “least protected passenger in the most protected seating position.”  Does it then follow that the least experienced driver should be driving the safest vehicle available?  What if no safe alternative is available? It’s not like a carseat checkup event where you might be able to get a free one if yours is old or unsafe!

I’m thinking a little bit in advance.  Do I want my teens to be driving the equivalent of a 1999 Dodge Neon?  A 3-star NHTSA frontal crash test rating, a 2-star side crash rating for the driver and a “Poor” rating in the IIHS moderate overlap frontal offset crash test.  No side curtain airbags.  No stability control.  No hands-free system.  Should I consider even letting them have a car at all if the only option is a veritable death trap? For all I’ve done to keep them safe for 16 years just to say, “Here’s the keys, son, see ya later.”  If it was the last time I ever said that, would I regret not having done more to put them in a safer vehicle?  Or am I being too protective and maybe it is time to start letting go?

What do you think?