I thought my son learning to drive would be a relatively straightforward process but he hasn’t even sat in the driver’s seat yet and it’s becoming complicated.
Since my car is an automatic and my son understandably wants to learn to drive on a manual I now find myself in the unexpected position of considering buying him a car, though I’ve said it would be much better if he pays for it from his own earnings.
So he proudly came back from a night out recently saying he’d struck a deal with an older mate to buy his much loved and cared for 15 year old Yaris – the price being a relatively affordable £360. The question is, reliable as it has been in the past, do I really feel safe with my 17 year old heading out in a car that’s nearly as old as he is?
It’s difficult because older cars often are the ones teenagers can afford but many insurance companies recognise that they can also be the most dangerous. Some insurers won’t insure a car older than 15 years at the outset of the policy, irrespective of how old the driver is.
Too cheap also sets off alarm bells for some insurers who may charge a higher premium for a cheaper car than for a more expensive one, because they know it’s more of a risk. My nephew was checking quotes for two cars he was considering buying and his preferred option at about £1200 turned out cheaper in the end than his initial choice priced around £550, because of the consequent saving he made on his car insurance.
Ok, so now I suggest my son looks for a low horse power, 5 year old, little run-around for about £1-1.5K. Keep it small so it fits into the cheapest insurance category and he might save on the price of his insurance too. I guess if I help fund it, I can have some input in to how it’s driven and we can set up a Safe Driving Agreement for the first year.
Finally, we’re sorted.
But then I see an article by Forbes on finding the safest car for a teen driver¹. It agrees about the importance of low horse power but says that the other essentials, when looking for a car for teenagers, are to buy the best safety features, such as: electronic stability and side airbags, as well as a bigger, heavier car.
And, suddenly, I’m taken back 30 years remembering an old boyfriend – only 17 – who was driving home in the early hours of one Sunday morning when he fell asleep at the wheel and collided with a tree at full speed.
He survived. But only because he’d borrowed his father’s Jaguar – though he inadvertently forgot to mention it to him! The length of the front bonnet absorbed all the impact of the crash and he managed to walk away without a scratch…..just with a little explaining to do.
Now I’m not about to go out and buy my son a Jag but it does make me wonder why so often the cars our teenagers have in their most vulnerable, first years of driving are so ill suited to the task.
Road crashes are the biggest single killer of young people in the UK ². One in five new drivers has a crash within six months of passing their test ³ and young drivers are involved in one in four fatal and serious crashes, despite only making up one in eight driving licence holders ⁴.
A dangerous combination of youth and inexperience means our teenagers need the best protection. And the latest information from the US Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) ⁵ recommends four main principles:
- Young drivers should stay away from high horsepower.
- Bigger, heavier vehicles protect better in a crash.
- Electronic stability programmes are a must.
- Cars should have the best safety ratings possible.
“Unfortunately, it’s very difficult to get a safe vehicle for a teenager at the prices most people are paying,” says Anne McCartt, IIHS senior vice president for research. “Our advice to parents would be to remember the risks teens take and consider paying a little more.”
Sounds like good advice to me, but it’s also worth remembering that cars in the US can be very different, and many small cars in the UK have excellent safety features and top Euro NCAP ratings. Nowadays, a big car isn’t necessarily safer than a small car.
To check a car’s safety rating take a look at http://www.euroncap.com/home.aspx which gives Euro NCAP rating results for both current and older vehicles.
So, best advice seems to be a car with the most safety features you can afford. Besides electronic stability programmes, look for side airbags and low horsepower. Sometimes, it might be possible to find a used car model which had the latest safety technology fitted as optional.
It could pay to do a bit more research. And that’s what my son’s doing now, he’s busy checking out websites and dealerships for the cheapest and, most importantly, the safest option.
 http://www.brake.org.uk/info-resources/info-research/road-safety-factsheets/15-facts-a-resources/facts/488-young-drivers-the-hard-facts and Death registrations in England Wales (ONS, 2010)
 DSA, Learning to Drive: a consultation paper (2008)
 Reported Road Accidents Involving Young Drivers 2009 (Department for Transport, 2011)