Objective: to determine access to vehicles, vehicle ownership and its correlates, and types of vehicles driven by teenagers during their first year of licensure.
Methods: About 3,500 Connecticut teenagers and their parents recruited at DMV offices participated in a study aimed at persuading parents to impose and maintain driving restrictions on their sons and daughters. Telephone interviews with teens and parents, which included questions on vehicles driven, were conducted upon licensure and at intervals throughout the year.
Results: The majority of both male and female teens owned vehicles immediately upon licensure. Family income and number of vehicles in the family were associated with early ownership. A year later 74% owned vehicles. Small cars, which provide inferior crash protection, were the most popular vehicle; the percent driving small cars increased from 36% to 42% over the year. About 25% were driving SUVs, pickups, or sports cars, which may increase crash risk for young beginners. One year after licensure, only 35% of teens were driving midsize or large passenger cars, the types of vehicles recommended for them, and about one-third of these vehicles were 10 or more years old. Owners were more likely than non-owners to drive older and smaller vehicles, to drive more miles, do more risky driving, and to have more traffic violations and crashes.
Discussion: Many teenagers in Connecticut were driving vehicles that rank low in crash protection or may increase crash risk. Attention to the young driver problem has been focused primarily on managing driving risks through graduated licensing systems. More attention needs to be given to the vehicles teens drive, and how decisions about vehicle type and ownership are made. Parents exert control over what vehicles their sons and daughters drive, and may benefit from information on how to make choices that better balance cost, safety, and other factors that go into these decisions.