A new study of vehicle safety and young drivers conducted by the Monash University Accident Research Centre (MUARC) has found the types of cars young people aged 17 to 25 drive is a major contributing factor to high road fatalities in that age group.
The study, funded by RACV, VicRoads, the Transport Accident Commission (TAC) and other road authorities and motoring clubs, investigated the types of cars driven and crashed by young people and measured the contribution of these vehicles to death and serious injury in a crash. The study looked at more than 250,000 accidents involving young people in Australia and New Zealand from 2001 to 2005.
The MUARC research shows that because of the cars they are driving, young people have an average 11 per cent greater risk of death or serious injury if they have an accident. For young women the risk is greatest, with the type of car they are driving increasing the risk of death or serious injury in a crash by more than 13 per cent (compared to 10 per cent for men).
Research team member Dr Stuart Newstead said data analysis showed that if all young drivers involved in crashes were driving the safest car available, rather than the cars they usually drove, the road fatality and serious injury rate could be reduced by more than 80 per cent.
“These finds are quite startling and concerning,” Dr Newstead said. “In Australia 181 young people were killed in car accidents in 2008. This age group already has the highest crash risk of any age and the type of car they were driving at the time gives them significantly lower levels of protection from death and serious injury in a crash than older motorists.”
Dr Newstead said the poor injury protection related to a variety of factors. “The cars are usually older, particularly for young males. Young women tend to drive cars that are both older and smaller than average — placing them at particularly high risk.”
Dr Newstead said that even when vehicle age was taken out of the equation, the car types driven by young people provided poorer levels of protection. “Even if we just look at cars of a particular age, young people are still choosing the vehicles with worse injury protection performance.”
“If we want to reduce the high rate of road fatalities and serious injuries in this age group, we should be taking heed of this research and looking at ways to change the car choices young people are making.”
Dr Newstead said the Used Car Safety Ratings, calculated by MUARC and available through road authorities and motoring clubs, was an excellent resource for identifying safe cars for young people.
It shows that vehicles such as the Ford Focus (2005-07), the Saab 9-3 (1998-2002) and the Peugeot 307 (2001-07) are top rating cars in terms of safety. The two most popular cars for young women, the Ford Laser (1982-88) and Hyundai Excel (1995-2000), score only one star, the lowest safety rating.
The two most popular cars for young men, the VL and VP Commodores (1986-93) have a low safety rating of two stars.
For further comment please call Dr Stuart Newstead on +61 3 9905 4364 or call Jane Castles, Monash University Media and Communications, on +61 3 9903 4842 or +61 417 568 781.