Even as some state school startup plans encourage alternative means of transportation to the yellow school bus, in response to reduced passenger capacity due to social distancing and to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 exposure, a recent study indicates that teens not only remain the riskiest drivers on the road, they are also driving some of the least safe vehicles.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reiterates that the school bus is the safest vehicle on the road for children to use to get to and from physical class, much safer than traveling in a passenger vehicle. NHTSA says students are 70 times more likely to get to school safely while riding on a school bus. But with reduced capacity and social distancing guidelines in place for this upcoming year, some districts are looking to parents to provide transportation.
For instance, the Texas Education Agency released guidance on June 9 that specifically calls for districts to encourage students to be dropped off and picked up from school by family members, carpool, walk, or bike to avoid virus exposure on the school bus. Connecticut guidance also suggests that districts encourage parents and/or guardians to transport their children to school. Other states have released similar recommendations.
But for those students who have their driver’s license, the risk increases.
A study released by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) on Wednesday states that more than a quarter of teen drivers killed in crashes occurring from 2013 to 2017 were driving micro, mini or small cars, and nearly two-thirds of those cars were between six and 15 years old.
The 2017 National Household Travel Survey found that teens logged more than half of their miles traveled in vehicles more than 11 years old, compared with less than 30 percent for adults.
Editor’s note—This same survey conducted by the Federal Highway Administration concluded that only a third of the 50 million school-age students ages 5 through 17 take the school bus, which would equate to about 10 million fewer children than the school bus industry often cites.
“It’s understandable that parents don’t want to shell out big bucks for their teen’s first car, and they probably don’t realize how much safer a newer, larger vehicle is,” said IIHS Research Scientist Rebecca Weast, the lead author of the study. “Small vehicles don’t protect as well in a crash, and older vehicles are less likely to be equipped with essential safety equipment.”
Previous research found that while teens tend to drive less than older drivers, they crash about four times as often, relative to the comparative number of miles they log behind the wheel. IIHS began compiling a list of affordable and safely used vehicles for teens in 2014, to help address the problem of teen vehicle choice.
Teens are also more likely to be driving older-model vehicles that do not come equipped with standard airbags and electronic stability control, the report stated.
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The September issue of School Transportation News magazine discusses the implementation of advanced driver assistance systems in school buses, which includes collision mitigation and electronic stability control, and how they can aide in making the school bus even safer.
“Despite everything we know about young drivers and crash risk, teens are still driving the least safe vehicles,” Weast says.