Are Electric Vehicles The Best Choice For Teenage Drivers?

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Are electric vehicles the best choice for teenage drivers (assuming that upfront costs aren’t an issue)? That’s an interesting question, one where I’d have to lean towards saying yes… with caveats, that is.

I’d argue that the main reasons supporting this position are the limited single-charge driving ranges (making it harder for the kid to just drive off somewhere on an unannounced holiday); the reduced operating/fuel costs (most of us remember gas money being a limiting factor in traveling, I assume); and safety (with regard to many different things).

Nissan LEAF


With regard to limited driving ranges — given that most electric vehicles (EV) possess ranges well under 100 miles per full charge, the potential for mischief is somewhat lessened. And, for that matter, the necessity for forethought and planning is strengthened, probably both are good things when dealing with teenagers (especially those who have been gifted access to an automobile despite their undeveloped brains and lack of personally gathered resources).

As far as operating costs and safety, sister site Gas2 provides some interesting thoughts:

An electric car can save you money on fuel. The federal government estimates that driving 25 miles in an electric car costs about $1.00. Even with gas at an 8-year low, there are very few gasoline powered cars that can match that figure. If your choice is to lease a new EV or pass down that 10-year-old Civic sitting in the driveway, which one do you think will cost more to repair and maintain?

Insurance for an EV is usually substantially less, an important consideration when it comes to adding a teenager to the family insurance policy. Best of all, many EVs come with very attractive lease rates. A new Nissan LEAF can be had for just $199 a month for 36 months with $2,399 due at signing. If you live in California or Oregon, FIAT will lease you a 500e for only $139 a month with just $1,999 down. That’s doable even on McDonald’s wages.

Sure that old Civic or Corolla you have is already paid for, but is it as safe as a new car? Safety standards are improving all the time. Newer cars are just better made than older cars. The Chevy Spark EV and Ford Focus Electric are Top Safety Picks by the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety. The LEAF and 500e got marked down after a new small overlap frontal crash test was added in 2014, but lots of other cars got caught out by that new addition to the testing protocol. You can bet every manufacturer is working furiously behind the scenes to fix that issue.

Good points all around. I don’t have any kids, so the question is just a mental exercise for me. Nothing on the line. But the arguments seem pretty solid. The only real barrier to my eyes are upfront costs — which can be mitigated to some degree by taking companies like Nissan up on their attractive leasing options.

What say you? What’s the better choice for a teenager, an EV like a Nissan Leaf, or a gas guzzling SUV or truck (which will probably never have anything — or anything useful — in the back)?

Image Credit: Nissan

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James Ayre

James Ayre's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy.

James Ayre has 4830 posts and counting. See all posts by James Ayre

53 thoughts on “Are Electric Vehicles The Best Choice For Teenage Drivers?

  • “What say you? What’s the better choice for a teenager, an EV like a
    Nissan Leaf, or a gas guzzling SUV or truck (which will probably never
    have anything — or anything useful — in the back)?”

    This might be too radical for an American to imagine, but what about just giving your teenager a bike? A moped maybe, if they save up a bit.

    Limited range? Check. Low running costs? Check. Oh, and that bike would get your teen in great shape. Having a car might make it easier to do those… useful things, but most teens I know would prefer a fit, handsome cyclist over a random dude with a car 😉

    Unless you live in the middle of nowhere, I struggle to see how a teenager would need a car. American high schools often have parking spaces for students; here in Europe even universities don’t.

    • And I would also like to add why not let your kid save up to buy a bike or (electric)moped or so.

      I would never ever give my kid a car. But I would let it borrow a car once in a while in exchange for being the designated driver or drive us to the airport or whatever when needed.

      • Fairenuff, but describing your offspring as an it?
        I know they can be right wee bastards, but they are still people!
        Sort of;)

        • I blame that on language differences 😛 They do have some kind of value even though you know they will put you in a home as fast as they can when you get old and less capable 😛

          • True, but I have been assured that I will only be put in the best of homes;)

    • I am 17 and live in the suburbs. They aren’t the middle of nowhere but are certainly car-centered. I live 14 miles from my school; how am I supposed to get there on a moped?

      • Err, granda, I need a lift, usually works around here;)

      • Plan your time, 14 miles on a moped is a little far. Take the car!

        • Don’t die on a moped that sucks

    • Unfortunately, the streets around here are deadly to cyclists and pedestrians. We can only ride bikes in our little subdivision, in parks, or limited greenways.

    • A bike? You luxury loving libertarian! Shanks pony was good enough for me before I progressed to doing a 16 mile round trip on a butchers bike!
      Ahh, young love.
      These days you could solve the overpopulation problem by demanding the yoof of today have to walk more than five hundred yards to meet a member of the opposite sex;)

      • You could also solve it by asking the not-so-young of today to walk five hundred yards. Half would die of a heart attack.

        Come on. It’s not as if the babyboomers or any generation since are a model for the ‘youth of today’ 😉

        • Aye, but this is the first generation to walk around like zombies with various appendages sticking in their lugs while their eyes are glued to a screen !

    • I promoted bicycling for years (including professionally), and have been car-free for over a decade, and know that this author is also car-free. However, the large majority of the population in the US is driving or going to drive. And it’s true that many places in the US are places where you are essentially dependent on driving. So, the question for the majority really is, what’s the best thing to drive?

      • Funny thing: old Dutch newspapers were full of columnists saying the same thing. After all, the Dutch (and Danish, and Flemish, and…) cycling culture is a relatively recent phenomenon. During the sixities and seventies, car use in the Benelux was higher than in much of the US. See this little article, for example:

        There’s no point getting stuck in a circular argument: ‘I can’t ride a bike because the culture’s not there. The culture’s not there because nobody rides a bike’. If you feel there’s too much traffic, joining the jam is hardly the rational choice.

        As for safety: a study across large European cities, including some famously car-centric ones, suggested that the health benefits vastly outweighed the risk of traffic accidents in terms of disability adjusted life years. An average person is expected to lose about 20 days of life due to accidents and gain about 14 months due to more frequent excercise.

        Sure, there are cases where you really can’t cycle. If you live 20 miles from school, there’s a decent enough case for a car. But how many teens live further than 10-odd miles from (a) their school, (b) their hobby and (c) their best friends? Oh, and then there’s a bus. And carsharing.

      • I have a lot of bikes, and as I fall into the “A” rider group, I ride on all types of roads that are very bike un-friendly. But I primarily ride for exercise. If I destination ride the primary driver is still getting exercise.

        I would love to use my bikes more for transportation, but the infrastructure for securing bikes at most of my destinations is woefully inadequate.

        As we improve the transportation infrastructure such that “B” and even children riders can reach more places without leaving their comfort zone, more thought and money will need to go into where these bikes get put once you get where you are going.

    • No, it’s not to hard for an American to imagine giving their child a bike to use as transportation. Impractical in many cases? Absolutely. It’s a different culture here in that respect. Much of our cities and towns were developed after the car was invented and therefore built around the idea of the auto being the main form of transportation and not public transformation.

      I would imagine a kid in Europe that bikes to where he needs to go will opt instead to use the ample and convenient public transportation he has available to him in bad weather. In the city I live in you can get to some places easily with public transportation but of course you have to first get to the bus stop or train station which can easily be 10 miles away from your home.

      Therefore I think an ev is a great kid car. I actually have a nissan leaf that is for my son and daughter to use when they are home from school. It’s great because it can get them wherever they need to go and they never have to pay To put gas in it which they love. The best part is when they go back to school because then I get to drive it!

  • The Spark EV can now be had for $139/month lease with NO MONEY down!

    Or it can be bought at an effective price of $14,995. If the sales tax bill gets approved, that would even be better.

    Spark EV’s safety rating would be good for the teenagers, and they would love the spiffiness of the car, the feel and the fun of the ride that most of them won’t be enamored by the clunky fossil-fueled vehicles later in life.

    • Where are you getting that $139 with $0 down on the spark? I’ve been looking at a lot of dealers, can’t seem to find one under $170/mo w/$2500 down!

      • Check the author of the link above at green car reports also from Cleantechnica. It takes a lot of patience. You should also try the links to GM site.

        • You forgot the disclaimer that if you live in California or one of the other two states that this compliance car is sold.
          Believe it or not there are a lot of people that live in the other 47 States in the US that were never given the option of buying the Spark, so this lease won’t be available either.

          • Just to remind you that California IS THE largest market for electric vehicles in the entire USA.

          • Due to state government environmental regulation, and incentives to purchasers.
            Does that mean that the rest of us shouldn’t be allowed the option of buying these vehicles?

  • What teen wouldn’t love a Tesla on “insane mode” ? 😉

    • What parent would give their teen a Tesla?

      • What parent gives their teen a car? When I was your age I had to have the butler carry me into town on his back.

        • (Actually when I say “the butler” I’m referring to Richard Butler, the Governer of Tasmania. We have a bit of an odd relationship.)

          • We’re tough in Australia. And self reliant. We work the land on our own with nothing but our own muscle and sweat and earwax. And a horse. And a disposable indigenous labour force which we will abandon once we figure out how mechanised agriculture works. But at the moment we’re having trouble making the gears small enough to fit inside the wheat plants.

        • Revenge is on its way bonnie lad, just waiting for the right moment;)

      • A very irresponsible one;)

      • The ones that can afford it, and are concerned about getting them one of the safest vehicles available.
        Yes there is a lot of attention over the quick acceleration of the P & D variants of the Model S. But you are going to get quick starts and high torque from just about any of the EV’s available today.
        Tesla has also encorporated the safety features to match the power of the electric drive as has been shown from government tests, and independent authorities such as Consumer Reports.
        If you want to limit the expense or reduce the total range that they can travel, then make it a used 60Kwh version, but if you are concerned with getting a safe EV for your beginning drivers make it a Model S. With the additional benefit that they can be bought from any state unlike some of the other compliance EV’s from other companies.

        • So why did Justin Beiber bought the Karma?

          • So with all of his other stupid choices and actions being constantly portrayed in the media you’re going to cite him for making an intelligent choice by doing this? Buying a car from a company that has gone bankrupt and no longer honors the warranty.
            By the way wasn’t your question about why a parent would buy a Tesla for their teen? Being 21 he doesn’t quite qualify for this category any longer,even though he still behaves as if he was one.

    • Indeed. 😀 The best option. Also the safest car on the market. 😉

      • The Only Major drawback: AFFORDABILITY.
        Sigh…. the 99% is on the bottom rung of the financial ladder.

  • The advantage of driving a Smart ED is that it only holds one other passenger.

    I remember high school drives with half a dozen or more people in one car no belts…can’t do that in a Smart!

    Also, the energy meter in the car can be viewed remotely, making it trivial to determine how hard the car was driven.

    My son is not in any hurry to drive, even though he is of age, he is fine with the bike and bus for now.

    • Just need to work a bit on the proper way to load your Smart.

      • When I was ten or eleven years old, my parents took our family of six to church in a Beetle. My little brother (age 6) rode in the luggage compartment, my sister and I (the oldest children) shared the back seat, and my mother rode in the front passenger seat with the baby on her lap. Normally our family had two cars, but the bigger one had died and it took a while to replace it, so we all crammed into the Beetle for several months. Church was the only thing that all of us went to at once.

    • That is a point. If I recall correctly Australian stats show the more teenagers there are in a car being driven by a teenager the greater chance of a crash.

      • Yep, California law doesn’t allow teenagers to drive car with fellow teenagers in the same car unless the other teenagers are family related or live together in the same household.

    • Very good point. Fully agree. The Renault Twizy also fits the bill (more fun to drive, too :D), but is only really in Europe… unless you can find one on Amazon.

  • If the principle for providing a car to a youngster is sound, the main concern with electric is the speed available effortlessly and silently. Strict tuition would be de rigeur.

    • i-MiEV or Twizy then! 🙂

      More seriously, while I agree with the author that EVs are great (and not just for young drivers btw), I also share the sentiment of many here that (e)bike and public transit are probably more adequate for most teens anyway.

  • I’ve often wished my Leaf had a parental restrictions feature and locator feature like my iPhone. Once my kids get their driver’s license, I might want to limit acceleration and top speed, and I might want to know where the car is.

    Given the existing Leaf features, app, and website, seems like this would be relatively easy to do, and at no additional per-vehicle cost.

    If I had a Tesla, parental restrictions would be a necessity.

    (And as long as it’s my car they’re borrowing, I’m not concerned about their privacy. I am concerned about my parental responsibility)

    • If the Leaf software doesn’t progress fast enough there are inexpensive GPS tracking units with motion sensors etc that fasten to the car with a super magnet that have subscription phone/computer apps to let you know what is going on with a car. They are a takeoff on what the police use for monitoring people on parole,and are advertised for parents wanting to monitor what the kids are doing with the car.

  • I’ve never driven an EV, but I was in the car for a Tesla test drive. The salesman showed us the acceleration from a standstill: I’ve not felt anything like it, even in a commercial jet takeoff. Giving a kid access to the family Tesla OR sending them out into traffic in Los Angeles (any city?) on a bike, either one, would be like handing them a loaded gun while saying “Go play army with your friends”. Do any of the other EV’s have acceleration anything like the Tesla?

    • Ha, yeah… Nothing accelerates like a Tesla. However, with instant torque, acceleration in any EV is very quick at the start. I think it’s one of the things that will most quickly sell EVs. That said, I don’t think it’s at a dangerous level for the majority of EVs, and certainly not the more affordable ones.

    • My son always says “key whoa dad!!” when we’re together and I mash the accelerator on my little Smart ED in the city. I like that he is more concerned with safety than I was at his age!

  • “Insurance for an EV is usually substantially less, an important consideration when it comes to adding a teenager to the family insurance policy” – where did this come from? State Farm doesn’t seem to work this way.

  • The biggest plus of having an electric car and kids is that you never get in the car and find that your kids have drained the tank leaving dad to pay to refill it. The slackest of teenagers can remember to plug the darned thing in when they are done with it.

    Also, dad takes it in the morning (full charge) they take it evening (reduced change) and weekends.

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