teen car crash

Motor Vehicle Crashes More Frequent For Teens with Own Cars

The journal Pediatrics recently published a study that showed that teens who report having their own vehicles (vehicles they don’t share with other family members) are more than twice as likely to have been involved in a recent motor vehicle crash. The study, a survey of 2,167 teens by researchers at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, indicated that teens who have their own vehicles are also much more likely to participate in other risky driving behaviors, such as using a cell phone and speeding.

Why might this be? According to driver safety experts, the following aspects of teens having vehicles for their sole use are potential contributors to the higher motor vehicle collision rate:

  • The teen is more likely to have selected their own vehicle: Meaning a small, sporty car; high-powered, easily maneuverable vehicles tempt teens to drive faster and take more chances behind the wheel, such as weaving in and out of traffic.
  • More driving time: When teens share a vehicle with other family members, they simply aren’t on the road as much. Teens who must return the vehicle by a certain hour so another family member can use it have a natural curfew that limits time on the road. While more driving time might make a teen driver more comfortable behind the wheel, she or he is not necessarily more skilled at driving. A false sense of confidence can lead teen drivers to take risks on the road.
  • Extra freedom: When teens don’t have to request the keys, they quickly fall into the habit of driving whenever and wherever they want, and parents just as quickly get used to the freedom of not having to give rides to boisterous teens and their friends. This means that teens take more frequent trips, in addition to staying out longer.
  • More passengers: Teens who don’t have to share their vehicles with their parents gain status amongst their friends because they can offer transportation to those who don’t have access to family vehicles. More time in the vehicle with teen passengers means trouble – teen passengers make driving much more risky for teen drivers.

Statistically, it’s safer for your teen to share a family vehicle rather than having one of their own. For parents who still intend to buy their teens their own vehicles, traffic safety professionals offer the following guidelines:

  • Choose the vehicle carefully; research your options thoroughly. Teen drivers need stable, midsize vehicles with all the safety features you can afford. Frankly, if your teen is happy with your selection, it’s a sign that you may need to reevaluate your options and choose a different vehicle.
  • Make sure your teen adheres to the Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) laws in your state. If your state doesn’t impose time limitations for teen drivers, create your own as part of your house rules. Match the number of hours your teen is allowed to drive to the level of responsibility and maturity she or he exhibits.
  • Don’t allow your teen to equate having her or his own vehicle to having unrestricted driving time. Set limits on the frequency and purpose for driving trips. Accompany your teen on trips in their vehicle occasionally and observe their driving behavior carefully, watching for any bad driving habits they may have picked up while driving alone.
  • Use GDL laws and the number of safety belts in your car to determine the maximum number of passengers your teen is allowed to have in the vehicle.

Check frequently to make sure your teen is complying with your restrictions. Review your cell phone bill to ensure that your teen is not making calls when she or he is typically behind the wheel. Any deviation from the rules should result in restricted (or removed) driving privileges for a specified period of time. If teens aren’t following the ground rules for use of the vehicle, parents need to penalize them by taking the keys away and acting as chauffeurs for a time.