SUVs and Your Teenager – A Bad Combination

By now, most of us are aware that SUVs have a greater chance of rolling over in a single vehicle accident than cars.  You’re also probably aware of what type of vehicle your teenager wants to drive.  But before you purchase a SUV for your teen, you should be aware of the increased safety danger they pose for inexperienced drivers.

A University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute study recently looked at SUV rollover tendencies in conjunction with teen driving habits to conclude that a SUV may not be the safest vehicle for your teenager.  Between 1999 and 2001, 37% of SUV drivers under age 25 were involved in single vehicle accidents that resulted in a rollover.  Compare that to the 30% rollover rate in single vehicle accidents among all drivers and you can readily see the safety concern.

Parents commonly think that with SUV’s height and weight being greater than a regular car, their teenager will be better protected behind the wheel.  The facts show otherwise.  Putting your teen in a SUV may actually compromise their safety.

A common type of accident for young drivers is one where a single vehicle runs off the road.  This type of accident usually involves a change in grade or road surface, causing the vehicle to begin to roll over.  A SUV’s higher center of gravity, coupled with a teenage driver’s lack of experience behind the wheel increases the chance for a serious accident in this scenario. 

Federal data indicates that in 2003, 6.4% of drivers on the road were teens, yet they were 14% of drivers involved in fatal accidents.  Of the almost 4,000 under 20 year-old drivers killed, 53% were not wearing seat belts and almost 31% had been drinking.  In response, most states have instituted graduated licensing for young drivers.  While this has helped curb the number of accidents involving teen drivers, the type of vehicle your teen drives can further reduce those numbers.

The Michigan study noted that almost half of SUV rollovers start with a sideways slip and loss of control.  This type of scenario is more difficult for a young driver to negotiate successfully due to their lack of experience.  Electronic stability control may help correct a sideways slip, but not all SUVs are equipped with that feature.  In addition, the study found that a greater chance of rolling over exists if the driver was drinking, had two or more passengers, was driving through a curve, or was traveling on a high-speed road. 

When considering a vehicle for your teenager, the safest car is the one they don’t want to drive – a large, low-power car.  Whatever type of vehicle you choose for your teen, it is important to consider the conditions your child will likely come across and their ability to react to those conditions.  If you do choose a SUV, consider providing your child with the additional resource of a defensive driving or accident-avoidance course.  The money you spend educating and protecting your teen will be worth it in the face of the elevated risks they face by driving a SUV.

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