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Why young drivers die

A P-plate lies in the gravel at the scene of an accident.
Joshua Dowling
CarsGuide

15 May 2015 • 5 min read

Exclusive report reveals one of the biggest factors in the deaths of young drivers. 

An exclusive survey into the cars owned by young drivers has confirmed what safety experts have suspected for decades: the most inexperienced drivers on the road are in the least safe cars.

The majority of novice drivers are in cars with an average age of 10 years or older - before the latest safety systems such as stability control, head-protecting side airbags and built-in handsfree Bluetooth operation became common - a benchmark study of 160,000 motorists aged from 18 to 25 over the past year has revealed.

The research, conducted for CarsGuide by the insurance website comparethemarket.com.au, shows the most popular choice of cars among young drivers were Holden Commodores and Ford Falcons that are at least 10 years old.

The former family and fleet favourites accounted for almost one-in-five of the top 100,000 enquiries made by young drivers alone, ahead of Toyota Corollas, Mitsubishi Lancers, Holden Astras, Toyota HiLux utes and Subaru Impreza sedans of a similar age or older.

The exceptions to the rule were the Mazda3 and Suzuki Swift: the average age on insurance enquiries on those two Top 10 cars was six years while the average age of a Volkswagen Golf owned by a young driver was eight years.

The year-long survey recorded the type and average age of vehicles when a driver aged 18 to 25 made an enquiry on insurance.

The findings have prompted calls by safety experts to put their teenagers in the newest car in the family.

The average vehicle ages are a best-case scenario, because the study does not include older vehicles that are not comprehensively insured.

However, the sample size of 160,000 young drivers -- the largest study of its type -- is the clearest indication yet of the true average age of cars owned by Australia's most at-risk age group on our roads.

The findings have prompted calls by safety experts for parents to surrender their keys and put their teenagers in the newest car in the family.

"We are putting our most inexperienced drivers in the least safe cars when it should be the other way around," said Ian Luff, the principal of Drive To Survive and an advanced driver awareness trainer for 35 years.

"Worryingly, I've had some parents say to me 'my kid's going to crash anyway, so I'm going to put them in an old clunker'," said Mr Luff. "That's a recipe for disaster."

The Australian Automobile Association says more needs to be done to get younger drivers into newer cars.

"It is important young drivers are in the safest car possible as they gain experience on the road," said AAA spokesman James Goodwin.

"While not everyone can afford a new vehicle, where possible, parents should allow younger drivers to use the safest vehicle the family has."

The AAA also said families should compare the safety ratings of different vehicles within their budget, both new and used, on websites such as ancap.com.au, before purchasing a suitable vehicle.

With record-low interest rates, Mr Luff says there is "no excuse" to not get younger drivers into safer cars.

"You can now get a brand-new $15,000 car with six airbags and a five-star safety rating and pay it off for between $50 and $100 a week, depending on the term of the loan," said Mr Luff.

"That's the same amount of money it costs to keep an old clunker on the road anyway. Why not jump that hurdle and get a cheap new car which will give young drivers the latest safety features, incredible peace of mind and built-in Bluetooth so they're not tempted to look at their phone when a text message or phone call comes in."

Mr Luff said older Falcons and Commodores -- the preferred choice of P-plate drivers because of they are widely available and most affordable -- lacked the latest stability control systems and were more prone to crashing than front-wheel-drive hatchbacks.

"They've got big six-cylinder engines, a lot of power, and when the driver gives it too much gas, the rear end slides out and the car goes sideways and, potentially, into a pole," said Mr Luff.

"Stability control, which all modern cars have, is the greatest invention since the seatbelt because if the car detects a skid it cuts the power and applies the brakes before the driver notices anything is wrong."

The insight into the average age of vehicles owned by novice drivers comes as the latest road toll data shows that deaths of 17 to 25 year olds are 30 per cent lower than they were five years ago (to 212 deaths in the 12 months up to and including March 2015).

However novice drivers are still over-represented in road deaths and, after years of steady reductions, fatalities in that age group crept up by 5 per cent over the previous 12 month period to March 2014.

Although police record the age of vehicles involved in fatal crashes, as well as other pertinent information, the information is not made public.


Survey of 160,000 drivers aged 18 to 25 and the average age of the cars they own.
Source: Comparethemarket.com.au

Ranking Car Average age
1 Holden Commodore 2004
2 Ford Falcon 2005
3 Mazda Mazda3 2009
4 Toyota Corolla 2004
5 Mitsubishi Lancer 2006
6 Holden Astra 2003
7 Suzuki Swift 2009
8 Volkswagen Golf 2007
9 Toyota Hilux 2005
10 Subaru Impreza 2005

 

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