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?
Somewhat of an old comment thread, but I just saw this. Some very good points in this article that I definitely have thought about, often! I was involved in a serious accident at the age of 21 (not at fault), and it has taken me years to come to terms with the fact that anytime I enter a vehicle, no matter how much I work to minimize risk (proper seat belt use, extended rear-facing, etc) there are still things that are out of my control (driver error, drunk drivers, etc) When our kids are driving age, they will be getting 8-10 year old Volvos, with no reservation, as a first vehicle. For us, that’s a good balance between safety & affordability. I was able to operate the window on my mangled car & walk away with a pre-side airbag Volvo so I can only imagine the advances that are made available today.
Great point, mother. In many situations, teens don’t need to drive at all. For my son, that may well be the case. For others, having a job or other activities during high school or college is essential, and sometimes no other transportation is available. Most families are somewhere in between. Certainly, postponing a driver’s license is preferable and the best solution is simply to let the teen have no vehicle. Safe vehicle OR cheap vehicle is still the question for most teens and the reality for many families. And with a few exceptions, you can only pick one.
Added after reading comments: Please don’t get them a car and have them drive if the bus is available.
Buy those few precious years to keep them alive. Let the brain mature. Let cars get made safer.
I cannot tell you how I shuddered at reading this. Kids I knew in high school are dead. One died right in front of the school. Please don’t have them drive then. A parent can never forgive oneself when it’s too late. I know they will drive at some point, but it doesn’t have to be high school, especially if there is a bus. Keep them alive!
Wait…you mean I’m gonna have to let them drive???? I can’t even stand letting them out of my sight!! No no…just buy a big roll of bubble wrap for them, and keep them in the house forever!
You are right; teen driving is the riskiest thing they’ll do and the years I’ve kept them safe are not going to end in tragedy if I can help it! First off, a 15-year-old brain has no business on the road, nor a 16-year-old brain. The bus goes to our high school, so they will not be driving. At all. I know a lot of kids in my wealthy high school who got new cars at age 16; a handful of them are dead. One died right in front of the school. It’s an issue that’s very dear to me. They had no need to be driving. I will let them have a license at age 18. Before then, there is a LOT I want to teach them and will, and we’ll top it off with an driver training course. For mine, they stuck me behind a car at age 16 (I said I DON’T WANT TO TAKE IT; I’M NOT READ). But it was required to graduate. I failed it twice before passing.
I will get them the safest car I can. No old cars. And in college, you live in the dorm so I didn’t have to drive until age 22, when the brain is much more mature at decision making. So, they will have many years of teaching, an official driver course, and they will ease into it.
I don’t agree that when they are 16 you have to let them get a license. The parents of all those dead teens of my high school still haunt me. I actually hope they legally raise the age to 18.
And no driving with friends. Not even at 18 or 19. Just bad news.
We will likely not add a car for a while, unless he starts showing any interest. It’s my daughter that would use it more often and prefer to drive to school rather than take the bus. That’s 2 years away. Thing is, he’s getting straight As and never asks for anything, while she gets all the stuff she asks for. It would be nice to give him something under his control for a year or two, otherwise it will just be hers. Like Julie, our Prius would be fairly reasonable if we add a backup camera.
We have reached that point this summer and so the IIHS list is timely and welcome. I’ve decided that it’s time to put my money where my mouth is and buy something that I truly feel good about him driving. Personally I won’t consider a small or compact car nor will I consider anything with a Poor rating in the small overlap test. But I also want to avoid buying something brand new. Currently considering a 2013 Subaru Legacy 2.5i Limited with Eyesight.
My husband and I have always had the policy that the least-experienced driver gets the safest car. Because my daughter is only 16 months old and I didn’t get my driver’s license until age 25, that “least-experienced driver” title will be mine for awhile. I will happily relinquish it to her when she’s a teen, though, because I know how much more secure — as a new driver — I have felt in up-to-date cars.
Oh, my kid is currently allowed to drive our 2006 Hybrid Escape… one thing I want to add on to it is a rearview camera (we just got one for my new Mazda 5, it was only $400 and replaces your rearview mirror with one with a small TV screen, I looooove it, and yet another neighbor’s kid would have benefited from that last week when she backed her car into his brand new driveway-side landscaping and broke a pipe :/)
I once knew someone with that Neon, and she was very disappointed that it got totaled in a parking lot fender bender, because she had been hoping to hand it down to her almost-old-enough-to-drive-kid. I outwardly offered my condolences for her dead car, and inwardly cheered that her kid wouldn’t have to drive it.
Our neighbors are saving a 2000 Taurus wagon for their 16 year old, it’s been parked on the street for years, while they keep upgrading their own cars. I hope for his sake they change their mind and get him something safer.
My son wants a ’69 Camaro…uh… not after all the years and worry I’ve put into your safety, kid, sorry (I also nixed the offer of a fixed-up ’92 Sebring from an uncle).
Our public schools have a class for parents of student drivers that teaches them about the advances in car safety. It prompted another neighbor of mine to give his kid the newest Acura in their family car lineup, while the dad kept driving the older rollover-prone Jeep, I thought that was impressive.
So Darren, get him the manual transmission Forester then. Everyone should know how to drive a stick! Brianna, I agree with you as well. It’s such a difficult decision. You want your kid out there polishing their car every weekend with loving care, but you also hope that car gets top marks in the small overlap front test. My ds enjoys reminding me that he’ll be old enough to get his permit next year and we have to face this decision as well because he won’t be going to the high school we can see from our house windows. Instead, he’ll be going to a magnet school miles away and won’t we be looking to get him driving as fast as we can, lol. So should we keep my MDX and have that be the “kids” car when my Tesla is ready next year (dh had better not back out on that one
) or get something smaller and more up-to-date? Maybe having to fill up the tank with premium gas will deter him from driving :D.
I think there’s something to be said about teens taking more responsibility for something they have purchased with their own money. I know teens can get into accidents that aren’t their faults- but some teens might be safer in a less safe car that they bought themselves because they have more of an interest in keeping their car.
Wendy, I’m thinking along similar lines. I’ll have a follow-up article on safe used car choices in the future. For new models, it’s hard not to like the base Honda Civic sedan as well. IIHS top safety pick with Good ratings in every crash test. A NHTSA 5-star overall rating. The base CVT LX model is $159 a month in many areas for a 3 year lease. Best of all, that model is standard with the automatic transmission, backup camera and hands-free Bluetooth. Some of those things can be hard to find separately on base trim levels on other models and often increase the cost considerably when grouped in all-inclusive options packages. Not to mention 30/39 mpg to keep operating costs down;-) For sportier models, in addition to the CRZ, I also like the Ford Focus hatchback, Hyundai Elantra hatchback, Subaru XV Crosstrek and Dodge Dart.
You can get some very good deals on midsize sedans like Accord, Fusion, Legacy and Malibu that are all very safe, too. Even though they have the advantage of being heavier and therefore safer in a frontal crash, they have the big disadvantage of being very unappealing to teens. I guess they can’t be choosy if they are getting a car lol!
My top pick by far for my teen drivers would be a Subaru Forester with eyesight, but getting one with automatic transmission and Eyesight is a much more expensive option and may not be feasible when the time comes.
If Piper was getting her license today we’d get her a Honda CRZ. http://www.iihs.org/iihs/ratings/vehicle/v/honda/cr-z It looks cool, it’s got good ratings, it’s a Honda so it’s not going to be expensive to maintain and it will go forever, we’d get a new one so it’d have 2014 safety options available, likely in red because it’s more visible (yellow is not an option), and it has room for only one other distraction in the car.