Young drivers may not make the most rational decisions when it comes to choosing a first car. Here’s how parents can help them find safer alternatives.

By Jim Gorzelany
CTW Features

Getting a license and driving one’s first car remains an important rite of passage. Even if a teen driver chooses a more rational model over, say, a racy sport coupe, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in Arlington, Va., suggests many teens are driving models that don’t offer sufficient crash protection and lack important safety technology.

Among the 500 parents queried, just over half reported buying cars for use by teen drivers that were from the 2006 model year or earlier; if it was a model that was passed down from parents or an older sibling, two thirds were eight years old or more. That’s significant because vehicles of that vintage are far less likely to include safety features such as electronic stability control (ESC) and side airbags than newer models.

What’s more, 28 percent of parents/teens picked minicars or small cars that inherently fare worse in a collision than do larger and heavier models. A separate IIHS study shows that teenagers killed in crashes are more likely than adults to have been behind the wheel of small vehicles and older vehicles.

While it’s possible to choose a safer car for young drivers and still stay within a reasonable budget, parents may find they have to dig deeper into their savings accounts to properly protect their offspring. “Unfortunately, it’s very difficult to get a safe vehicle for a teenager at the prices most people are paying,” says Anne McCartt, IIHS senior vice president of research. “Our advice to parents would be to remember the risks teens take and consider paying a little more.”

For its part the IIHS has compiled a list of “best choices” for first-time drivers that provide “good” protection in each of its rating criteria, including moderate overlap front crashes, side crash protection, head restraints and seats for rear crash protection and roof strength to protect occupants in rollover crashes; all are based on IIHS testing from prior model years. We’re featuring the IIHS’ recommendations in the accompanying box, though for the sake of brevity we’ve culled the list to models valued at $15,000 or less. The full list, along with additional secondtier choices at lower price points, can be found on the Institute’s website, iihs.org

Otherwise, the IIHS advises parents shop for a teen driver’s car based on four main criteria:

 Stay away from high horsepower models that can tempt teens to test their limits.

 Bigger and heavier vehicles protect their occupants better in a crash than do smaller models.

 Choose a car that’s fitted with electronic stability control, which helps a driver maintain control of the vehicle in sudden steering maneuvers and over slippery roads.

 Consider a model that has the best safety ratings possible; separate crash-test ratings from past model years can be found on both the IIHS’ website and on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s safercar.org site.

© CTW Features

Safest used cars for teen drivers under $15,000

Midsize Cars
 Honda Accord, 2012/later, $14,400
 Audi A4, 2009/later, $14,300
 Toyota Camry, 2012/later, $14,300
 Buick Verano, 2012/later, $14,100
 Subaru Outback, 2010/later, $14,000
 Lincoln MKZ, 2010/later, $13,500
 Kia Optima, 2011/later, $13,300
 Hyundai Sonata, 2011/later, $12,100
 Subaru Legacy, 2010/later, $11,900
 Dodge Avenger, 2011/later, $11,600
 Audi A3, 2008/later, $11,300
 Volkswagen CC, 2009/later, $11,200
 Chevrolet Malibu, 2010/later, $10,900
 Chrysler 200 sedan, 2011/later,
 Mercury Milan, 2010-11, $10,700
 Ford Fusion, 2010/later, $10,200
 Volkswagen Passat, 2009/later,
 Volvo C30, 2008/later, $9,800
 Volkswagen Jetta, 2009/later, $8,200

Large Cars
 Buick Regal, 2011/later, $13,500
 Ford Taurus, 2010/later, $13,500
 Buick LaCrosse, 2010/later, $12,900
 Volvo S80, 2007/later, $9,000

Small SUVs
 Kia Sportage, 2011/later, $13,800
 Hyundai Tucson, 2010/later, $13,100
 Subaru Forester, 2009/later, $12,800
 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport,
2011/later, $12,000
 Volkswagen Tiguan, 2009/later,
 Honda Element, 2007/later, $8,900

Midsize SUVs
 GMC Terrain, 2010/later, $14,900
 Kia Sorento, 2011/later, $14,500
 Infiniti EX, 2008/later, $14,400
 Chevrolet Equinox, 2010/later,
 Dodge Journey, 2010/later, $11,200
 Subaru Tribeca, 2006/later, $8,500
 Volvo XC90, 2005/later, $7,300

 Volkswagen Routan, 2012, $14,000

Prices noted are based on Kelley Blue Book used car values as of July 2014 for the lowest trim level and earliest applicable model year, based on the following criteria: vehicle in good condition, typical mileage and private party purchase in Arlington, Va. Source: IIHS.