A press release went out today with a headline warning parents not to buy a car for their kids because it increases their chance of having a crash. But despite the information being issued by a respected Australian university, the headline is sadly misleading.

As ever, the truth is in the detail.

A study by the University of NSW looked at the crash data of more than 20,000 drivers in NSW who consented to having their driving records made available via police and hospitals.

The drivers were aged 17 to 24 and on their red P-plates in 2002 and 2003, and were followed up by researchers two years and 13 years after getting their licences.

The data showed young drivers in the survey had a 30 per cent greater risk of crashing in their first year if they drove their own car compared to those who borrowed the family car.

Seven years after getting their licences, these drivers still had a 10 per cent greater risk of crashing than the young people driving the family car, the study found.

Young drivers who had their own car were 2.7 times more likely to be involved in crashes in the first year following licensing, and were at 50 per cent increased risk at the three-year mark compared to those who shared the family car, the study said.

But here’s what the university study sadly did not highlight in the main thrust of press release.

  • Young people with their own car often do so because they need to travel for work or education or live in areas without readily accessible public transport and/or can’t borrow the family car because it is being used by the parents – so they are on the road more than those who need to borrow a car, which increases their chances of being involved in a crash.
  • Young people with their own car are more likely to have an older, less safe vehicle due to cost – which increases their risk of death or injury in a crash.
  • Young people who must borrow a family car are likely on the road less often than those with their own car.
  • The family car is likely newer, bigger and safer than a car bought by a young driver on limited income.

Indeed, road safety experts have previously pleaded with parents to buy their kids as new a car as possible, to give them a better chance of survival as they develop their driving skills at a vulnerable age.

In 2017, the Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) crashed a 1998 Toyota Corolla into a 2015 Toyota Corolla head-on to demonstrate the improvement in safety between old and new models.

The data showed the crash would not have been survivable in a 1998 Toyota Corolla but would have been survivable in a 2015 Toyota Corolla.

Tragically, today’s UNSW press release advising parents to not buy their kids a car did not get to the nub of the story until it was buried in the last six paragraphs – rather than in the headline and main thrust of the story.

As per the last six paragraphs of the press release:

Study co-author Professor Teresa Senserrick from the University of Western Australia says there are valid reasons why some young people need their own cars.

“Some young people of course might need their own vehicle for a variety of reasons, including personal safety when working late at night,” she says.

“This is more a caution against thinking a car is a perfect gift when public transport or other safer alternatives are readily available.”

Prof. Ivers says there is also evidence that access to a car can gives some young adults opportunities they may not otherwise have.

“Research has shown that if you’ve got access to a car, you have better access to education and work, and you’re more likely to be paid more and experience less unemployment than those with no consistent car access,” Prof Ivers says.

“This isn’t a matter of saying, well, you shouldn’t have access to a car. We’re talking about having a balance between having access to a car and driving exposure. It’s about parents monitoring what their kids are doing, where they’re going and who they’re going with, especially for people driving in rural and remote areas, where there is the biggest risk for fatal crashes.”

Translation: The headline should have said parents should aim to put their kids in safer and newer cars within their budget. Not ban them from owning a car.