Are Larger Vehicles Safer for Young Drivers?
Motor vehicle crashes are the number one cause of death for teenagers in the U.S. The CDC estimates that, on average, eight teens die in car accidents every day, and hundreds more suffer injuries.
Adults responsible for young drivers may seek out larger vehicles, believing these will be safer for young drivers. While larger vehicles often have lower overall death rates on the roads compared to smaller ones, a vehicle can be too large and hard to navigate for an inexperienced driver一and when this happens, the risk of injury or death rises once again.
Larger Vehicles Are Safer Than Smaller Ones….
A May 2020 report from the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety indicated that in each vehicle category, driver deaths are more common among smaller vehicles than larger ones. For instance, subcompact cars posted a death rate of 78 deaths per 10 billion miles driven, while the largest sedans listed only 36 deaths per 10 billion miles driven. Similarly, small SUVs had higher associated death rates in crashes than large SUVs.
Exceptions exist, however. In the rear-wheel-drive pickup category, a larger size didn’t correlate to a lower death rate. Two-door cars didn’t match the pattern either.
In the 2014 to 2017 model years, the top 20 vehicle models with the highest death rates included 15 classified as “small” or “mini” vehicles. By contrast, among the 20 vehicles with the lowest death rates, only four were classified as “small” or “mini”ーand one of the four, the Land Rover Range Rover Evoque, is still larger than many other vehicles on the road.
Why are larger vehicles safer? Even when two vehicles travel at the same speed, a heavier vehicle carries more kinetic energy due to its mass. When these vehicles hit something, the heavier vehicle packs a bigger punchーbut it also has more mass to absorb that energy instead of transferring it to the occupants.
…But Only to a Point
Data on car accident deaths allows for a direct comparison between vehicles’ size and death rates. However, it doesn’t allow for a direct comparison of factors other than size that may contribute to a crash.
Large vehicles, such as pickup trucks and large SUVs, have a higher center of gravity than smaller vehicles. This high center of gravity can make the vehicles more likely to roll during a sudden emergency maneuverーsuch as the type an inexperienced young driver may make.
Large vehicles can also be difficult for young drivers to handle. Adapting to the challenges of visibility and moving in tight spaces is more challenging for drivers with little experience behind the wheel.
The American Automobile Association recommends that parents avoid SUVs for young drivers. If an SUV is required, however, both AAA and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) recommend a newer model with electronic stability control. Electronic stability control systems help reduce the risk of rollovers.
Choosing the Right Fit for a Young Driver
When choosing a vehicle for a young driver, consider more than just the vehicle’s size. The CDC recommends that those responsible for teen drivers also account for:
- Inexperience. Lack of experience leads to a lowered ability to recognize dangerous situations or choose the safest response quickly. Think of driver’s education requirements as the minimum, and get your teen more supervised experience behind the wheel that they need to pass the course.
- Nighttime and weekend driving. Fatal crash rates for teen drivers at night triple compared to daytime rates. Half of all deadly crashes involving teens occur on the weekends.
- Seat belt use. In 2020, 56 percent of teens who died in car accidents weren’t wearing a seat belt, and 43 percent of US high school students reported not always wearing their seat belts when a friend was driving.
- Distracted and impaired driving. Distraction remains a challenge for teen drivers, as does driving. Teens have a higher risk of a crash than adults while under the influence of alcohol, even if the teen and adult have the same BACーand even if that level is within the legal limit for adult driving.
AAA also recommends limiting the engine size and power in vehicles for young drivers. The organization notes that an inline four-cylinder engine provides the acceleration drivers need to merge safely without offering so much power the driver risks losing control of the vehicle. The improved fuel economy can be easier on a teen’s or family’s budget as well.
Keeping teens safe on the road is a challenge – but parents and family members can take steps to improve young drivers’ safety. If you or someone you know is injured in a crash, talk to the team at the Steinberg Law Firm to learn more about your legal options.