5 On Your Side

Give Teen Drivers Safe Cars – Not What They Might Want

Posted April 14, 2008 5:43 p.m. EDT
Updated April 14, 2008 10:15 p.m. EDT

— Car accidents are the leading cause of death for teenagers. About 3,500 teen drivers, and 1600 passengers, died in crashes in 2006.

While parents can't do much about the decisions teens make while driving, they can make a difference in what they drive.

“My point is to try to give them the best protection you can," auto expert David Champion said.

Champion said the first thing parents should keep in mind is that bigger is not necessarily better.

Some parents think, with so many sport utility vehicles on the road, maybe I want my child in one too.

With SUVs, there is a risk of a rollover or a single-vehicle crash. Even with electronic stability control, drivers can't overcome the laws of physics.

Add to that what research shows: teen brains are not developed enough to accurately assess risky behavior.

“It's a huge onus, really, for the kid(s) to do what they're supposed to do. Most kids, when you talk to them and they've done something silly, you say, 'Why did you do that?' 'I don't know.' And at this age, they probably don't know. They just do things impulsively. And to give them the car that protects them the best in all situations is why I would go with a good ,family-sized sedan," Champion said.

A family-sized, four-cylinder sedan with side-curtain airbags, anti-lock brakes and electronic stability control is a safe choice, Champion said.

But of course, sedans may not be as "cool" as SUVs, pickup trucks or flashy sports cars, so they are not always an easy sell for teens.

“My daughter really didn't want the car that I bought for her. But I said 'tough,'" Champion added.

Research also shows the part of the brain that sets priorities, suppresses impulses and weighs consequences does not completely develop until age 25.

That is why choosing a car that won't go too fast or roll over, if teens make a mistake, is a big help.