How Do You Pick a Safe Car for Your Teenager?

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All parents want their teens to drive safe cars that will protect them if they are ever in an auto accident. However, due to budget constraints, many parents may be buying cars for their teens that offer poor crash protection, according to a recent report by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

Out of 500 parents surveyed, the IIHS found that 83 percent of them had bought used cars for their newly licensed teen drivers. More than half of those cars were from the 2006 model year or older, which is worrisome. Older cars often lack important safety features such as side airbags and electronic stability control. In addition, mini-cars and small cars, which may not hold up well in crashes, were the vehicles most commonly purchased by those surveyed.

To address this issue, the IIHS created a list of recommended vehicles for parents on a tight budget who are looking to purchase an affordable car for their teen driver without compromising on safety. The prices range from less than $5,000 to $20,000.

Even though the IIHS provides a detailed list of which used cars get top marks for safety, it also details some guiding principles that parents should consider –regardless of whether they pick a vehicle from the IIHS list.

Those guidelines are:

  • Don’t buy a vehicle with high horsepower. Young people are known to be impulsive and have a false sense of invincibility, which can prove deadly when combined with a high-powered engine.
  • When it comes to crashes, bigger is better. Weighty cars can withstand crash forces better than small ones. That’s why compact-cars are such a bad idea for teen drivers, who are statistically more likely to be involved in collisions, according to the IIHS.
  • Get electronic stability control. Electronic stability control (ESC) is a technology that helps drivers to maintain control in risky situations such as when roads are curvy or slick. ESC reduces the risk of injury and death as much as safety belts do, according to the IIHS. It is an especially important feature in SUVs and pickup trucks, which have higher centers of gravity, and are therefore more prone to rollovers than other vehicles.
  • Buy the car with the best safety ratings within your price range. The IIHS routinely rates and lists new cars as its top safety picks. So does the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Parents should focus their search on vehicles that get “good” ratings in the moderate overlap crash test, “acceptable” ratings in the IIHS side crash test, and four or five stars from NHTSA.
  • Pick a car with side airbags. Automakers can design cars with better crash protection in the front and rear. It gets trickier to protect people in side-impact crashes. Side airbags can prevent passengers from striking parts inside the vehicle or coming into contact with anything outside of the vehicle. They can also spread the crash impact across the passenger’s body, reducing the risk of serious injury.

No parent wants to lose a teenage son or daughter in a car accident. You can do your best to protect your child from the hazards of the road through good driver’s education, lots of practice, vigilant supervision and by getting them the safest car you can afford.

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