Safe Cars for Teen Drivers

Teen Drivers

Generations of teens have driven old clunker or parental hand-me down vehicles once they got their driver’s licenses. However, a new study shows that older cars may not be a safe choice for teen drivers. In fact, national accident and fatality records indicate that newer vehicles may be the safest choice.

Many teens have saved earnings from part-time jobs to buy their first wheels., which are often in their last years of life. Other more well to do teens received new wheels as presents. In the 1960s, a new car for teens meant a VW Bug or a Ford Mustang, the cute, hot cars for the teen baby boomers. In the mid-1970s, many teens who got new cars received Ford Pintos, AMC Gremlins or other small cars introduced them that were not as safe as their parents’ larger cars or older used vehicles. Now, however, newer cars of all sizes are equipped with far more safety features that are not in those vehicles that are a decade old that would naturally be their used car options.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) conducted an analysis of teen driving deaths. The Institute looked at data in the U.S. Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) on the 2,420 teens age 15 through 17 who did behind the wheel from 2008 to 2012. The researchers looked at the make, model and safety features of each car involved in the fatalities

The researchers determined that nearly half of the teen drivers killed on American roads during the period studied were driving vehicles that were 11 or more years old. Additionally, they found that 82 percent were in vehicles at least 6 years old. The researchers noted that older cars typically lacked the safety features which are standard on most new cars, like Electronic Stability Control (ESC) braking, back-up cameras and airbags.

The research also determined that teens were more likely to die in smaller vehicles than fatally injured drivers between the ages of 35 and 50. In fact, 29 percent of the teen drivers fatalities were in a small or mini car, versus 20 percent of the middle-age drivers fatalities.

Not surprisingly, the study showed conclusively that larger, heavier vehicles provide better crash protection than smaller, lighter cars. So, whether used or new, size did make a difference in protecting teens.

The reality is that a new car that is a top safety pick is not in the budget for most teen drivers or their parents. The IIHS does make four main recommendations for teen vehicles:

  • The car should not have high horsepower that will tempt the driver.
  • Bigger vehicles or heaviest ones are safer. For example, a Prius is a heavy car for its size and tops the mid-car recommendations.
  • ESC is crucial to help novice drivers better maintain control on slippery roads and curves.
  • Try to get a car with the highest safety rating possible from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The IIHS maintains list of the safest older cars on its Web site. This is a good source to help parents figure out which vehicle might be best for their teen drivers.

By Dyanne Weiss

NBC News
Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

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