Choosing the Safest Vehicle for Teens

Teen drivers in your home need to be driving the safest vehicle, which essentially means a newer model. It may seem expensive to go this route, but according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), newer vehicles tend to have vital safety equipment and are safer in terms of crashworthiness. Moreover, because they are less experienced than their parents and aren't able to make quick maneuvers, teens really need side curtain airbags and stability control in their vehicle as a safety net.

A Larger Vehicle Means More Safety

It's true for teens and it's true for all of us: A mid- or large-size vehicle can ultimately mean the difference between life and death in an accident. According to an IIHS report, the highest number of death rates occurred in a small car — they take up 11 out of 16 models on their list of unsafe vehicles.

Vehicles that weigh at least 3,300 pounds are optimal for teen drivers, according to Jeffrey Runge, former National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) chief. That leaves out many small vehicles and all compact vehicles.

At the same time, SUVs aren't particularly safe either since they are difficult to handle in emergencies such as quick maneuvers, according to president and CEO of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, J. Peter Kissinger. As such, parents should stick to vehicles that are in the mid-size range like a Ford Fusion or Kia Optima.

Not So Fast

Another factor to consider when choosing the safest vehicle for your teen is speed. Many, though not all, teens are likely to take risks behind the wheel, so don't encourage recklessness. Among the small cars that have high mortality rates, the ones with the highest death toll are sporty cars, according to the IIHS's report on vehicle death rates.

A vehicle that can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph between 8 to 11 seconds is probably the safest for teen drivers, according to AAA Michigan manager of community safety services, Jack Peet.

Crash Avoidance and Crashworthiness

Ensure that the vehicle has stability control. Likewise, the vehicle should also have side curtain airbags and side airbags. Anti-lock brakes as well as driver side airbags should also be a top priority. Check the NHTSA crash test results and the crash test scores from the IIHS to ensure the vehicle you're thinking about is truly safe.

Although most parents will search for a used car, remember that a vehicle that's only a couple of years old is most likely to have the most recent safety equipment. Furthermore, only in the last few years have side airbags and stability control been included in non-luxury cars.