Everyone knows that teenage drivers have more than their fair share of traffic accidents. On a per capita basis, teenagers account for more crashes and highway fatalities than any other age group . The problems posed by young drivers are further complicated by the fact that our teenage driving population is steadily growing, and that more teenagers now own cars. According to a recent survey, 27% of 16 and 17 year olds own their own automobiles. Among 18 and 19 year olds, vehicle ownership rises to 44 %. This increasing trend toward vehicle ownership by teenagers poses a serious parental concern: “What type of vehicle should I buy for my teenager, or what should I encourage or allow them to buy?”

Since insurance studies show that crash risk is greatest during the first 2 years of driving, parents should avoid letting teenagers drive overpowered high performance cars. Performance vehicles present an open invitation for fast driving and cater to teenagers’ worst tendencies . The problem with mixing performance vehicles and teenage drivers is not their physical ability to drive. Beginning teenage drivers typically possess excellent physical skills, but lack of driving experience often effects their judgment. Placing an inexperienced driver in a powerful performance vehicle can only increase the already high crash risks associated with young drivers.

Since teenage drivers face the greatest crash risk during their first years of driving, parents should place safety high on their list of purchase considerations. Most parents understand the value of safety features such as air bags and anti-lock brakes . However , many fail to consider that vehicle design is a critical factor for occupant safety during a crash . Frontal collisions tend to be the most serious type of traffic accident. They account for almost 50 percent of the highway fatalities in the United States every year The laws of physics dictate that big vehicles provide more protection in frontal crashes . Larger vehicles are more energy-absorbing during a crash , and tend to keep the forces of the crash away from the occupant compartment.

Side-impact collisions are the second most serious type of accident and account for approximately 25 percent of traffic deaths. Again , larger vehicles tend to provide more protection in side crashes than smaller vehicles. Four-door cars, by nature of their structural design, are more crash-worthy in side collisions than two-door vehicles.

Roll-over accidents account for almost 15 percent of traffic deaths each year . However , insurance studies show that roll-over accidents occur more frequently among teenage drivers than any other age group. Hard-top vehicles obviously will provide the most protection in a roll-over accident. Studies conducted by the National Highway Safety Administration indicate that “top heavy” vehicles with higher centers of gravity tend to be more susceptible to roll-over accidents. Unfortunately, these type of vehicles are very popular with young drivers .

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