Automotive technology seems to get better all the time, and each new model year brings safety features and creature comforts that few of us could have imagined even a decade ago. Not only do these features make driving more enjoyable, they also improve the crashworthiness of a car. This term refers to how well the vehicle protects occupants in the event of a car accident.
Unfortunately, due to high costs of buying a new car, the demographic most likely to have access to the latest car technology is “middle age” drivers, who already tend to be the safest drivers on the road. Meanwhile, two groups at high risk of accidents – teenagers and the elderly – are likely to be driving older vehicles with fewer safety features and more mechanical issues. In addition to being at high risk of accidents, elderly drivers are also at higher risk of injuries and fatalities in accidents.
This was the conclusion reached by researchers after examining seven years of crash data from New Jersey, including demographic information about the victims and information about the vehicles involved in those crashes. Researchers found that teenagers are likely to be driving older “hand-me-down” vehicles from their parents or family friends (or otherwise purchased very inexpensively). Elderly drivers, on the other hand, are likely to be using the same cars that they’ve had for decades. Even if they’re still in good working order, most of these vehicles lack modern safety features that could be lifesaving.
The features identified as most important to crashworthiness were:
- Side and curtain air bags in addition to front air bags
- Electronic stability control
- Larger overall vehicle mass (an SUV compared to a sedan, for instance)
- Lack of excessive horsepower
Of course, this discussion is moot without taking financial means into consideration. Most families can’t afford to buy their teenager a higher-end vehicle, and many older drivers also may not be able to upgrade to newer models. But researchers were careful to stress that safety isn’t only a product of new and expensive cars. Instead, drivers and their families should look for vehicles with the specific features listed above and buy the best fit within their price range.
If you have a teen driver at home, please consider whether you can outfit him or her with a highly crashworthy vehicle if at all possible. And if you are an older driver or have an older driver in your life, please consider the safety benefits of a newer car with more advanced safety features. A slightly larger financial investment could literally be a life-and-death decision.