Teens’ first cars older, short on safety

Last week we issued a PEMCO Poll news release that said teenagers’ first cars typically are old and short on safety equipment.
   An informal survey of my coworkers confirmed the same thing with our own first cars.
   PEMCO’s Poll revealed that 29% of NW drivers’ first cars were 10 years old or more, and 19% were 6 to 9 years old. Those cars often were smaller vehicles, too, that cost less to buy and got good mileage.
   The concern is, older cars – though affordable – lack safety features that are important for new drivers, and the laws of physics prove small cars lose when they collide with larger vehicles.
   My fellow scribe here at work said when she got her first vehicle, a 1980 Ford F-150 pickup, her parents liked all of that metal surrounding her. And it probably played a role in her emerging relatively unharmed when she later crashed the 15-year-old truck, even though it had only a lap-shoulder belt and no airbags.
   Another colleague went small – like many teen drivers – with her first car, a 7-year-old 1981 Mercury Lynx. It too had only lap and shoulder belts. She beat the odds: Although her car was T-boned and totaled, she suffered minor injuries. Statistics show most people in similar circumstances do far worse.
   Two people on my floor drove 8-year-old Honda Accords, and if they’d bought an Accord just a couple years newer – the 1992 model – they would have benefited from driver’s-side airbags, introduced that year as standard equipment.
   Apparently I was typical of baby boomers. Fords and Chevys were the most-common first cars in my day, and Impalas were the most-common model (when combined with Bel Airs, a midrange variation of the top-line Impala from 1958-1975). In recent years, Toyotas and Hondas have become the common first cars.
   My first car was a four-door 1961 Impala that I bought in my senior year. It was 11 years old at the time and had zero safety equipment – not even a lap safety belt. My friends called it my “heavy Chevy.” Thankfully, I never crashed it in the 12 years I owned it.
   A colleague down the hall drove an 11-year-old Buick LeSabre that he says sat eight – comfortably! Nicknamed the Blue Whale, it offered no protection beyond a seatbelt. And lots of metal.
   Now, when I note that big cars with lots of mass are believed to fare better in collisions with smaller cars, that applies to cars of similar age and construction. Check out this classic crash test, including video, where a full-size 1959 Chevy collides with a 2009 Chevy Malibu. The Malibu, though smaller, fared far better because of its modern safety features.
  That test exaggerates the contrast in safety since it compares vehicles built 50 years apart, but the message still applies: When shopping for a teenager’s first car, check out the safety ratings (from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) before making your choice.

by  Jon Osterberg

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