Driver Knowledge Tests

Will driving newer models of cars help young and new drivers stay safe on the road?

Around 45% of all deaths of young people in Australia are related to a road accident, a statistic that could be improved to reduce the number of fatalities. Inexperience on the road is one of the major reasons, but another cause is the use of older vehicles. The average age of Australian cars has increased from 10 to 10.2 years since 2014. This trend is concerning because data from fatal crashes indicates that cars built before 2001, although representing only 20% of registered vehicles, accounted for 36% of vehicles involved in fatalities. By contrast, cars less than five years old, which made up 31% of the fleet, were involved in 12% of fatalities, according to the Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP).

Age and relative safety of a vehicle

Research shows that the age and relative safety of a car is a probable contributor to a crash, with the likelihood of an accident or mortality four times higher for older vehicles than for new ones. This is because newer models of vehicles are equipped with advanced collision avoidance technologies, enhancing protection during a crash. Recently built cars have also improved crumple zones and numerous airbags to protect drivers and passengers in an accident.

Teenagers or new drivers are likely to inherit their parents’ older vehicles, and although there are benefits to driving an old car – such as cheaper insurance and no car payments – higher maintenance costs and poor gas mileage are definite setbacks. In addition, older vehicles are not fitted with the minimum safety requirements that will reduce the chances of collisions and fatalities. For example, electronic stability control (ESC) was not mandatory as a standard feature until 2013. ESC corrects oversteer and understeer. For new drivers who have little road experience, ESC can improve traction and keep them in control of the vehicle.

Personal injuries cost money

Young drivers are also more likely to experience personal injuries during crashes compared to mature drivers. Hospitalisation costs, rehabilitation, car repairs or even lost wages are some of the major expenses arising from personal injuries. These costs can be clawed back by a personal injury lawyer, who may be hired to avoid liability after a crash or to seek compensation for an accident that was not the fault of the driver. 

What safety features should young drivers look for

Whether it’s a brand new or secondhand vehicle, certain safety features can drastically improve the chances of preventing an accident or in the case of one, reducing the fatality rate. Hence, parents who are shopping for a car for a young driver should consider basic safety features such as ESC and anti-lock brakes. The latter prevents the wheels from locking to help avoid skidding.

Unfortunately, some car features that are nice to have for safety are not mandatory under Australian law. One of these is the autonomous emergency braking system that uses sensors to monitor the distance to the vehicle in front of drivers. If for some reason, the driver fails to brake in time, the system takes over to slow down the car and avoid a collision.

The blind-spot monitoring is another feature that is handy to have, as it keeps a virtual eye on traffic around the vehicle that is often invisible to wing mirrors, sounding off an alarm if the driver puts on the blinker and intends to merge into traffic to occupy a lane that is already taken by another vehicle. A vehicle that is fitted with a reversing camera also lets the driver see if there are obstacles behind the car when backing up, especially small objects or children.

An ageing vehicle fleet in Australia can become a barrier to road safety. In the case of young and new drivers, taking advantage of car safety technology, along with vigilance, alertness and avoidance of drugs/alcohol reduce the probability of accidents and injuries.

Darren is an expert on driving and transport, and is a member of the Institute of Advanced Motorists

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