Selecting the Right Car for a Teen Driver - not as easy as you think!!

August 3, 2013

Choosing the Right Car for a Teen Driver 

When teenagers reach driving age, parents struggle with the dilemma of whether to purchase a car for their new driver and, if so, which car will keep them the safest on the road. 

According to a study conducted by the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, the safest car for your teenager is the family car. The study found that teens who have to borrow a family car are half as likely to be involved in a fatal crash as teens that own or have a car exclusively for their own use. 

If you do decide to purchase a car for your teen driver, this is ultimately a compromise between the teen’s perceived needs and wants (ie style, color and features) and practicality, affordability and safety considerations. Tight budgets will lead many to consider vehicles which are less reliable, higher in maintenance costs or lack active and passive safety features; however, safety should never be compromised. 

Below are a few features to consider when purchasing a car for your teen driver. 

Newer vs. Older Cars 

Newer cars tend to have better safety equipment, better reliability, improved gas mileage and, in some cases, lower insurance rates. Some older cars have high insurance rates because they are more often stolen (for parts) than new models. 

While it’s common to seek out a used car for a teen driver, keep in mind that a vehicle more than three or four years old is pretty unlikely to have the latest safety equipment. For example, only in the last three years have many non-luxury cars had stability control or side airbags available. 

Size Means Safety 

It’s true for all of us. It’s especially true for young people though. A mid- or larger-size car could be the difference between life and death in a crash. 

Former National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) chief Jeffrey Runge, a former emergency room physician, recommends vehicles weighing at least 3,300 pounds for teen drivers. That rules out compact cars and most small models. Even a small car that earns five stars in most crash tests is only being judged in how well it protects in a crash with similar-size vehicles. 

In short, bigger is better. The lightest vehicles have the highest death rates, Minivans and large four-door cars have the lowest. 

Avoid SUVs 

Big, yes, but most safety experts caution against SUVs for teens. Young drivers tend to overcorrect when steering out of trouble, which makes them more prone to roll over their vehicle. The University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute has reported that among drivers younger than 25 in single-vehicle crashes, 37 percent of those in SUVs rolled over, compared with 30 percent of older drivers in similar circumstances. Even smaller SUVs are much less stable than a conventional sedan or coupe. 

SUVs also come with a higher cost of operation and more expensive insurance. 

Not too Fast . .. Not too Slow Either 

The American Automobile Association (AAA) recommends parents rule out both the quickest and slowest vehicles as unsafe - the latter could actually cause problems by being too pokey during lane changes or highway merges. Jack Peet, manager of community safety services for AAA Michigan, says vehicles that accelerate from zero to 60 mph in anywhere from eight to 11 seconds are safe bets for teens. 

Avoid Sporty Cars 

Your teen may be dreaming of driving a sporty vehicle, but the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) warns against allowing your teen to have a sport vehicle such as a mustang or convertible. Teens with these types of vehicles tend to drive in accordance with the vehicle’s image. That tends to increase the crash rate along with additional danger from the poor occupant protection these vehicles provide in a crash. In fact, the IIHS’s recent report on vehicle death rates not only found that small cars had the highest death toll; it found that among small cars, sporty cars have the highest death toll. 

Go for an Automatic Transmission 

While it’s beneficial in the long run to instruct new drivers on a manual transmission, it is safer for the teen to not be required to concentrate on shifting. An automatic transmission will allow them to concentrate on the road conditions and their own driving. 

Look for These Important Safety Features 

◦Antilock Brakes – Let you steer your way out of trouble, even if you have to slam on the brakes. 
◦Traction Control – Sense when a wheel is losing its grip on the road and automatically takes power from that wheel, possibly transferring it to the ones that need it most. 
◦Stability Control – Detect when a driver is about to lose control and applies the brakes or cuts power to keep the vehicle on course. 
◦Steering Wheel & Dashboard Air Bags – Protect the driver and front passenger if your car is hit in the front or hits someone head on. 
◦Side Air Bags – Protect the driver or any front seat passenger sitting on the side that gets hit in a crash. 
◦Side Curtain Air Bags – Inflate down from the roof above the side windows to protect the head. 
◦Seat Belt Pretensioners – Remove slack from belts when sensors detect a crash is about to occur. 
Review Crash Test Results 

As when choosing any car, it’s wise to check crash test scores from the government or IIHS. The IIHS conducts crash tests and lists vehicle safety ratings based on a number of factors, with the primary factor being vehicle occupant protection. You can view the vehicle ratings and plug in a particular make and model at the IIHS Web site. 

When it comes down to it, buy the safest car you can afford for your teenage driver. The best vehicles for teens are often the last ones they’d choose. 

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