Objective: To examine parental decisions about vehicles driven by teenagers and parental knowledge of vehicle safety.
Methods: About 300 parents were interviewed during spring 2006 in Minnesota, North Carolina, and Rhode Island while teenagers took their first on-road driving tests.
Results: Fewer than half of parents surveyed said teenagers would be the primary drivers of the chosen vehicles. Parents most often cited safety, existing family vehicle, and reliability when explaining the choices for their teenagers' vehicles. About half of the vehicles intended for teenagers were small/mini/sports cars, pickups, or SUVs - vehicles considered less safe for teenagers than midsize/large cars or minivans. A large majority of vehicles were 2001 models or earlier. Vehicles purchased in anticipation of adding a new driver to the family were more likely to be the sizes/types considered less safe than vehicles already owned. Few parents insisted on side airbags or electronic stability control, despite strong evidence of their safety benefits. Even when asked to identify ideal vehicles for their teenagers to drive, about half of parents identified less safe vehicle sizes/types. Most parents knew that midsize/large vehicles are safer than small vehicles, and at least half of parents said SUVs and pickups are not safe for teenage drivers, citing instability.
Conclusions: The majority of parents understood some of the important criteria for choosing safe vehicles for their teenagers. However, parents actually selected many vehicles for teenagers that provide inferior crash protection.
Impact on industry: Vehicle safety varies substantially by vehicle size, type, and safety features. Many teenagers are driving inferior vehicles in terms of crashworthiness and crash avoidance.