Survey Says — Drivers In Training Should Learn On An Electric Vehicle

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Through June 2022, electric vehicles (EVs) accounted for 5.7% of new-car registrations, according to Experian. It’s a wave of exponential consumption that’s here to stay. The next generation of drivers will likely never appreciate the boiling visceral pleasure of a V-8 engine and certainly never master using a clutch. What they will do, however, is grasp the in’s and out’s of all-electric transportation. That means today’s teens will likely own multiple EVs in their lifetimes. Isn’t it time now to teach drivers in training by switching to EVs?

How many of you remember your first time behind the wheel of a car? Mine took place on a Sunday when Blue Laws were still in effect and our local shopping center was closed for the day. Only equally spaced light poles blocked my way, and I gained confidence as a driver in training pretty quickly. “Driving itself isn’t hard,” my mother admonished. “It’s anticipating what the other drivers will do that makes driving a challenge.” She learned to drive on a vehicle that required her to double clutch, so she probably felt my experience with an automatic transmission was easy by comparison.

Today’s drivers in training are beginning to learn on EVs much more frequently, and these vehicles have entirely different characteristics than either my mom or I had. Partially, that’s because nearly all EV models are new enough to be built to meet modern safety standards. That appeals to parents, while climate conscious teens get satisfaction knowing their rides have zero tailpipe emissions.

An EV– which many people refer to as a computer on wheels  — confers several positive effects on new drivers. There’s the lower cost of fuel benefit a new driver’s budget.

EVs offer a far quieter ride than gas powered cars, creating drivers who are more focused, calm, and happy. That sense of well-being may be one of several deciding factors that persuade parents to think that their teens may be better off learning to drive behind the wheel of an EV. A Cars.com survey conducted on Sept. 14, 2022, found that 74% of 1,000 respondents said it’s at least somewhat important that teens learn to drive an EV, and 56% of respondents said they believe all teen drivers will learn to drive an EV within 10 years.

Here are some other interesting parent perspectives that emerged from the survey.

  • 84% of surveyed parents and caregivers believe that hybrid and electric vehicles will surpass gas powered vehicles by 2042;
  • 61% of parents believe EVs are just as safe or safer for teen drivers than gas-powered vehicles.
  • 59% of parents expect their teen to learn about operating and maintaining an EV from either a family member or driving school;
  • 52% of parents say that their teen received instructions on how to operate and maintain hybrid and electric vehicles when learning how to drive; and,
  • 37% of teen drivers use a hybrid or EV as their primary vehicle.

An article this month interpreting that data by Cars.com editor-in-chief and EV owner Jenni Newman offered several reasons why EVs are a good fit for drivers in training.

  • Active safety features: Teen drivers would benefit from active safety features such as automatic emergency braking with forward collision warning and rear cross-traffic alert.
  • Parent control tech: Some automotive programs are available that give parents some insight into how their teen is driving. Chevrolet’s Teen Driver Technology available in the Bolt EV and EUV allows parents to set a speed alert and limiter, a volume limit, and a seat belt reminder. In the Cars.com survey, 88% of respondents said they’re at least fairly confident in their knowledge of parental control tech.
  • Less maintenance: With many fewer maintenance needs than vehicles with internal-combustion engines (ICEs), EVs will likely have a longer life with the wear and tear of a teen behind the wheel.
  • One-pedal driving: Many EVs have regenerative braking, which slows the vehicle when the driver removes their foot from the accelerator. The feature might help teens learn to judge distances more efficiently.

Newmann also noted that public charging might pose problems for teens, especially if they have to hang out in a parking lot to wait their turn or charge in cold weather states, which might drop range “as much as 40%.” The rear drive nature of EVs might catch a teen off guard when cornering, and the instant torque, which is advantageous in some driving situations, “could bring a lot of temptation.”

While a used EV could be a very nice match for a driver in training, inventory issues make finding an affordable used EV more difficult than just a couple of years ago. The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), however, seems to include used EVs, so that could help to assuage some of the pain of lofty used EV price tags.

When choosing the best EV for a teenager, there are many factors to keep in mind. In addition to active safety features, an EV typically has a lower center of gravity than an ICE vehicle, which makes it less likely to roll over in a crash. Price tags of EVs vary, just as they do for new or used ICE vehicle purchases, so it takes some savvy consumer research. While maintenance costs will be lower than an ICE vehicle, charging costs can add up for teens, so it’s best to budget together. Range varies depending on the model and battery size, and teens need to learn to plan travel distances well.

Considerations for Parents Who are Thinking of Buying an EV for their Teen

A New York Times article earlier this year asked teens themselves what they thought of EVs. Most were enthusiastic about EVs’ potential to create a cleaner world, help reverse climate change, and reduce dependence on gasoline. At the same time, they expressed misgivings about the environmental impact of battery production, the time electric cars take to charge, and how much they cost.

Clean and convenient, EVs have a lot to offer families as the next generation moves into the driver’s seat. The zeitgeist for EVs makes more and more teens ideal candidates for learning to drive in the vehicle that in two decades will dominate the roads. By that time, of course, automakers will have worked through some Gen Z EV issues (i.e.unappealing styling, poor EPA estimates, battery longevity concerns, or weird names).

Solutions that promote equitable EV adoption and access to charging infrastructure will help today’s drivers in training become leaders in tomorrow’s low emission communities.


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Carolyn Fortuna

Carolyn Fortuna, PhD, is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. Carolyn has won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavey Foundation. Carolyn is a small-time investor in Tesla and an owner of a 2022 Tesla Model Y as well as a 2017 Chevy Bolt. Please follow Carolyn on Twitter and Facebook.

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