Sharing the family car can help young drivers stay safer on the road

Claire Halliday
Claire Halliday
New research reveals young drivers who share the family car are less likely to crash the vehicle.
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New research shows young drivers who share the family car are less likely to crash than those who drive their own car.

Young drivers have a 30 per cent greater risk of crashing in their first year if they drive their own car compared to those who borrow the family car, an extensive study of NSW young drivers has found.

And even 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 research shows.

It was a similar story with crashes resulting in hospitalisations or death. Those who had their own car were 2.7 times more likely to be involved in such crashes in the first year following licensing – and they were still at 50 per cent increased risk at the three-year mark, compared to those who shared the family car.

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The multi-institutional study, published recently in the journal Accident Analysis and Prevention, included researchers from UNSW Sydney, The George Institute and the University of Western Australia. The study 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 at two years and 13 years after getting their licences.

Study co-author Professor Rebecca Ivers says if there was one key learning from the study for concerned parents, it’s “don’t buy your kids a car and give them unlimited access to it”.

“The first 12 months after licensing is the most dangerous time for young drivers, and having unlimited access to a car in this period can increase their risk of crash,” she says.

To help encourage parents to consider not rushing to buy their young driver their own car – with an aim to keep young drivers safe – Professor Ivers told Education Daily that “having clear boundaries around where they drive and with who is ideal”.

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“Make sure they have the safest car they can and don’t have unlimited access to it,” she says.

Additional rules help improve driving safety

The reason is a compelling one. The research Professor Ivers helped conduct shows that, while young drivers hitting the roads in their own vehicles are at higher risk of being involved in accidents, for young drivers who do their driving in the family car, it’s a different story.

By sharing a family car, their access to the vehicle is restricted and they may have a parent or guardian making rules about what is acceptable driving practice, such as no long-distance driving, no having more than one other passenger in the car, or no driving at night.

“In high-income countries like Australia, there’s a culture that says you get your own car, you’re out on the road and you’re free and independent,” says Professor Ivers.

“Unfortunately, at this age, with limited experience on the road, it’s a very dangerous time for young drivers. And then there seems to be something about owning their own car and having greater access that might mean they drive differently than if they were driving the family car.”

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Young drivers driving their own car were 2.7 times more likely to end up hospitalised or fatally injured than young drivers of the family car just one year after getting their licence.

Family car is safer

Another factor that may come into play is that cars given to young teens and young adults may not be as robust as the family car, Professor Ivers says.

“What often happens is that people buy a cheap car for their kid, and so the kid’s driving around in a clapped-out older car with fewer safety features. So the advice here is, let your kids drive your car, let them negotiate the use of it, and make sure they’re driving the safest car that they possibly can.”

Risky driving and the use of alcohol and recreational drugs was also reported to be higher in those people driving their own cars than those using the family car.

Interestingly, those with their own cars appeared to rate themselves more highly in their driving abilities, with 20.5 per cent believing themselves to be much better drivers than others, compared with 15.9 per cent of those who borrowed the family car.

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Monitor, don’t ban

While the study findings suggest that restricting exclusive access to a vehicle may protect drivers from crashes, the study authors do not suggest all parents should just block access to vehicles.

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.”

Car access can drive educational and career opportunities for young people

Professor 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,” Professor Ivers says.

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“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.”

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Claire Halliday has an extensive career as a full-time writer - across book publishing, copywriting, podcasting and feature journalism - for more than 25 years. She lives in Melbourne with children, two border collies and a grumpy Burmese cat. Contact: claire.halliday[at]