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Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Potential Risks for Teens Driving Older Cars

It's Affordable…But Is It Safe?

When it comes to car accidents, teens are the highest at-risk group. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), in the first months after getting their Licenses, young drivers are the highest risk group for crashes. The National Transportation Safety Board says that automobile accidents are the number one cause of death for young people 15 to 20 years of age, accounting for almost one-third of all fatalities in this age group.

Making a bad situation worse, roughly 60 percent of teen drivers are operating cars that are at least seven years old — and 27 percent of those teens are operating vehicles that are 12 years old or older, according to a recent national study of more than 900 teen drivers conducted by Liberty Mutual Group and SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions).

"Choosing a car for your teen to drive can be a tricky situation for any parent," says Dave Melton, Director of Transportation Technical Consulting Services at the Liberty Mutual Research Institute for Safety. "Typically the transportation need must be addressed within a practical budget, which often means giving the new teen driver a hand-me-down or purchasing an affordable used car. Safety is often a second or third consideration, but it should be an equal if not leading consideration. Does this mean used cars should be avoided? No. It means parents need to weigh carefully the safety features available and ensure that the important ones are present and working properly."

At least four new significant safety features have become standard in newer car models in the past 15 years; such as advance frontal airbags, side air bags, tire pressure monitoring systems, and electronic stability control.

According to the Liberty Mutual/SADD study, with 88 percent of teens driving these automobiles to school, now is the time for parents to consider the safety of the their teens' vehicles.

"Getting a driver's license and a first car are rites of passage for teenagers, but this research proves it is vital for parents and teens to choose cars carefully," says the chairman and chief executive officer of the national SADD organization Stephen Wallace. "Safety should be the number-one priority."

Here are a number of automobile safety checks parents should take in to account while their teen is or will be driving.

1. Perform a dashboard test. Turn the key and watch as the warning lights illuminate on the dashboard. The lights are indicators that the vehicle is doing a "self-check" to ensure all features are operable. Then start the car. If a light remains on after the car starts, something is working improperly.

2. If the vehicle is equipped with an Antilock Braking System (ABS)? If so, does your teen know how to employ it? Antilock brakes were introduced in the late 1980s and currently in about 83 percent of cars. Pumping these breaks numerous times in a row defeats their purpose. A trembling feeling underfoot and loud noises really mean that the ABS is working properly. Liberty Mutual discovered that even professional drivers are not always familiar with how ABS works. The main advantage of ABS in an emergency is that it allows the driver to maintain steering control. It is recommended that you take your teen to a secure area, drive 15-20 MPH with seat belts properly fastened, and have your teenager slam on the brakes to get used to what ABS feels and sounds like.

3. It's standard on new models to have driver and passenger airbags are standard on new automobiles. But adding side torso and head curtain bags remarkably increases protection. Dual-stage and smart airbags have become available recently. Depending on crash severity, dual-stage airbags offer two levels of inflation: full pressure for hard impacts, less for more smaller hits. To determine whether or not to fire the front passenger airbag, smart airbags include sensors that assess the weight or position of the occupant.

4. Experts concur that stability control is the single most effective safety device in vehicles since the advent of seat belts. Stability control, which employs the ABS system sensors, helps prevent skids and helps keep vehicles under control during abrupt maneuvers. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in a recent report, says that stability control has been very effective in reducing crashes. Stability control is an especially important function if your teen is operating an SUV.

5. Are the seat belts, head restraints and tires in good condition? In the event of a rear-end crash, properly adjusted head restraints help protect against whiplash. Inspect seat belts to ensure they are not frayed, cut, or excessively worn. Be certain that working safety belts for all driver and passenger positions are in place. And tires must have sufficient tread life left in them. When hunting for a used car, bring a tire gauge. Be wary of "aged" tires — most experts agree that tires older than five years need to be carefully inspected for signs of degrading rubber. This can be a significant problem for cars that are driven only a few miles per year — the tread may appear good, but the tire has deteriorated to a dangerous point.

6. Is the car equipped with traction control? Traction control is effective on roads that are slippery from snow, ice, or rain. It employs the ABS wheel sensors to detect tire spin. If the tire spins due to lost traction, traction control automatically slows the drive wheels down to regain traction.

7. Is the car equipped with All Wheel Drive/Front Wheel Drive/Four Wheel Drive? All Wheel Drive power is delivered to the wheels that have traction instead of those that are slipping; this function is useful in all weather conditions. All Wheel Drive vehicles are not recommended for extreme off-road driving. Front Wheel Drive improves traction due to the weight of the engine and transmission over the front drive wheels. Most often found in SUVs and pickup trucks, Four Wheel Drive is only useful if the vehicle is taken off road. These vehicles are most commonly rear wheel drive until they are manually shifted into 4WD.

8) Look up the car safety score at Web sites such as, where you can research the safety ratings a car has received. Others sites include the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS),, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration,

It is important to note that the crash rating for vehicles is determined in part by how well the passenger compartment protects the occupants. Newer vehicles have the benefit of automotive structural engineering advances that were not available even just a few years ago.

For more information about driver safety, The National Safety Commission and Lowest Price Traffic School offer safe teen driving resources for first time drivers and their parents.

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The National Safety Commission, Inc.
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Ponte Vedra Beach, FL 32004-3359

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