Drivers who have a greater chance of getting into car crashes are more likely to be behind the wheel of vehicles that are less safe, according to a new study from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
Both teens and adults age 65 and older are at a greater risk of getting hurt than middle-aged drivers because of the type of car they’re in — likely to be older and lacking important safety features, according to the report from CHOP’s Center for Injury Research and Prevention published Thursday.
The study was done to “really put numbers behind” the impacts to teenagers who often inherit hand-me-down cars when they first learn to drive, or older adults who stay faithful to the same car for years, said Kristina Metzger, the report’s lead author.
“What we really are thinking is that if we can get these drivers, who again have higher risks of crashing and being injured in crashes, into safer vehicles, that may improve their crash outcomes,” she said.
The study stresses the need for drivers to prioritize the safest car options in their price budgets. Newer models and cars with side and curtain airbags tend to be better picks. Electronic stability control, which helps maintain control when swerving or skidding, is also an important safety feature. Shoppers should steer clear from cars with high horsepower and toward larger vehicles that offer a bit more protection, according to CHOP’s guide to safe cars for teenagers.
“One of the things that we’d like to point out is that having a safer vehicle doesn’t necessarily mean that they are the new, expensive vehicles,” Metzger said. “There are quite a few vehicles out there that are more inexpensive used vehicles that also are very safe.”
The report raises equity concerns, highlighting disparities between drivers with lower and higher incomes. Those of lower socioeconomic status, also overrepresented in fatal crashes, drive less safe vehicles. Younger drivers in the lowest-income census tracts drove cars nearly twice as old as counterparts in highest-income tracts, the report said
The report leaned on a comprehensive database detailing crash and licensing data across New Jersey from 2010 to 2017 and weighed the findings against the vehicle safety characteristics like make and model, airbags, horsepower, and electronic stability control from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
While it looked at data in New Jersey, Metzger said the takeaways are likely reflective elsewhere in the United States.
Public transportation is a safer, cleaner, and less expensive form of transportation than driving, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. However, SEPTA’s ridership isn’t expected to bounce back to pre-pandemic levels anytime soon, which could lead to traffic congestion if more commuters turn to cars in the coming months.
Metzger said that whenever buyers are looking at vehicles for themselves or family members, they should look at safety features. “To be able to buy a vehicle that is the safest that they can afford,” she said, “is a really key consideration that all drivers should keep in mind.”