You know what your teenager wants in a car: something stylish and fast. Unfortunately for teen drivers, what they should be driving is just the opposite.
Teens and Car Crashes
Teens and cars can be a deadly combination. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, automobile accidents are the primary cause of death for teens in the U.S., and teens are involved in three times as many deadly crashes as other types of drivers.
The main reasons why teens and cars don’t mix well come down to inexperience and irresponsibility. Teen drivers are new drivers, and they’re still getting acclimated to operating a vehicle. They haven’t had enough time behind the wheel to react to unexpected and often dangerous situations correctly. Other behaviors that worsen the problem are speeding, distracted driving, texting, drinking while driving and not wearing seatbelts. Many teens don’t always think about the consequences of their actions, so they make bad choices. To a teen, an impromptu drag race is fun, not a dangerous situation. Take that bad choice, add inexperience, and you have a recipe for a crash.
The automotive safety experts at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety recommend that teens drive cars that are big, boring and slow. The bigger the vehicle, the more mass there is to absorb crash energy and protect the occupants. Boring, slow vehicles are also ideal because teens aren’t as tempted to push the car’s limits.
Following the IIHS prescription for teen safety will keep your kid safer, but it’s not likely to keep teens happy. To find a car that both you and your teen will like, do your research.
Key Safety Features for Teen Drivers
If you’re buying a family car your teen will also drive, or you’re helping your teen buy one, make sure that the car has electronic stability control. The federal government requires ESC on 2012 model year and newer cars, but if you’re considering a car built before the 2012 model year, make sure it has ESC. This feature detects when the wheels of a car start to travel at different speeds, which usually means that the car is headed into a skid. For most drivers, let alone an inexperienced teen, that skid can lead to a collision. ESC not only detects a skid, but it also steps in and applies the brakes to individual wheels to keep the car on track.
Anti-lock brakes are another key safety feature for teens. ABS prevents the brakes from locking up. That, in turn, helps prevents skids, helping the driver maintain control of the car. Any car you’re considering for a teen driver should have ABS.
Air bags come standard on all new cars, but if you’re looking at an older used car for your teen driver, make sure it at least has front air bags for the driver and front-seat passenger. Side air bags for the front seats and side curtain air bags are even better. Side air bags protect your teen in a side-impact crash, and if the car rolls over, side curtain air bags provide a cushion for your teen’s head.
Best Cars for Teens
If you’re shopping for a new car, there are plenty of models that will keep both you and your teen happy. Larger cars tend to perform better in crashes, but they’re also more expensive. These smaller and midsize cars balance safety with price.
The 2013 Kia Forte sedan is a small car that’s also an IIHS Top Safety Pick, which means it received top scores in all IIHS crash tests. It starts at $15,400 and has lots of standard features, like a USB port, an auxiliary input jack and Bluetooth connectivity, which teens should like. The 2013 Ford Fiesta is another good option for teens. The Fiesta sedan starts at $13,200 and is an IIHS Top Safety Pick. You can even get Ford’s optional SYNC infotainment system in higher trim levels. It has a feature that can block text messages that are received while on the road, which can cut down on distracted driving.
There are lots of midsize cars that are also good for teen drivers. The 2013 Hyundai Sonata starts at $20,995 and is also an IIHS Top Safety Pick. This midsize sedan has modern styling and will appeal to both teens and parents. The 2013 Subaru Legacy is another good car for teens. This $20,295 sedan is an IIHS Top Safety Pick, and its standard all-wheel drive is good for teens who live in areas of the country that often get inclement weather.
Worst Cars for Teens
While there are a number of cars that are ideal for teen drivers, there are also a lot of cars that no teen should drive until they’ve proven themselves to be safe, responsible drivers. IIHS says no teen should be behind the wheel of a sports car. The temptation to speed, along with other risky behaviors, is too great for inexperienced teen drivers.
There are plenty of options for your teen driver. Research vehicle safety scores and try to stick with big, boring cars. You’ll feel better knowing your teen will be safe when he or she is behind the wheel.