The Safest Cars for Teen Drivers

For a parent, there is nothing more terrifying than handing over a set of car keys to your son or daughter for the first time. When they hit the road, you'll have no control of their safety. Everything will be up to them.

As your young adult pulls away from the house, you might wonder if you’ve done enough to keep them safe. They’ve taken driver education classes, and you’ve spent many hours in the passenger seat teaching your child the rules of the road.

What more can a parent do?

Well, there is one thing. Before your teen slides behind the wheel, you can make sure that the car they’re driving is super safe, and that they feel at ease with the vehicle.

New cars vs. used cars

There’s no easy answer for the question of whether or not you should buy a new or used car for your teen. The upside for a new car is that you have the option to add state of the art safety features such as front and side air bags, electronic stability control, lane departure, and automatic braking - technology that will help young drivers manage dangerous situations.

Some new cars also come with technology to keep your teen from getting distracted, and keeping their focus on the road. New models from Hyundai and Ford offer software applications that allow parents to block incoming texts while their teens are driving. There are other apps like LifeBeforeText that block incoming texts, and phone calls while the car is in motion.

Technology will certainly add to the price of a new car. Tack on insurance, gas, and maintenance, and the total cost of ownership of a new car can get pricey.

Used cars come with a much lower price tag, but may not offer as many safety options. If you can find a later model car with some tech safety options, a used car might be your best choice.

Below are the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety car recommendations for teens. They all recommend either small SUVs or midsize cars. Note that the IIHS does not recommend small cars for teens, and does not list any in their report.

Small SUV’s

  • Honda Element (2007 - 2011)
  • VW Tiguan (2009 - newer)
  • Subaru Forester (2009 - newer)
  • Mitsubishi Outlander Sport (2011 - newer)
  • Hyundai Tucson (2010 - newer)

Midsize cars

  • VW Jetta (2009 - newer)
  • Volvo C30 (2008 - newer)
  • VW Passat (2009 - newer)
  • Ford Fusion (2010 - newer)
  • Mercury Milan (2010-2011)

Large cars

  • Volvo S80 (2007 - newer)
  • Ford Taurus (2010 - newer)
  • Buick LaCrosse (2010 - newer)
  • Buick Regal (2011 - newer)
  • Lincoln MKS (2009 - newer)

Guidelines for new drivers

We’ve all heard the slogan “speed kills.” It’s one thing for an experienced driver to push the speed limit on an open road. Not so much for a young driver. If you give your teen a car with some muscle under the hood, they’re going to test it. Add a few friends to the mix egging the driver on, and you could have a disaster in the making.

When looking for a car, choose a four cylinder over a six cylinder. A four cylinder may not be as fun to drive, but it will have enough giddyup to keep up with traffic.

Horsepower is only part of the car-buying equation. Teen drivers need a car with some bulk to protect them from crashes. However, driving a car that is too big for their experience level isn’t good either. Find a car that provides enough weight to withstand an accident, but not so much that it’s hard to maneuver.

Go for the tech

Cars come with a number of bells and whistles that make the driving experience easier and safer. Anti-lock brakes, traction control, and all wheel drive are just some of the options that are available.

Which options should you get? If money isn’t an object, get a car with as many safety gizmos as you can. Young drivers can use as much help as possible.

The gold standard of driver assistance options is electronic stability control (ESC). ESC uses speed sensors and independent braking for each wheel to help keep the car moving in one direction.

On slippery roads or when a vehicle is turning, the front part of the car may point forward while the back is in a spinout. ESC will take control of individual wheels, and cut engine power until the car is back under control.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety estimates that if every car was equipped with electronic stability control, as many as 600,000 single car accidents could be avoided, and save as many as 10,000 lives each year.

Be your own judge

Dad driving home in a new car and handing the keys to junior is made for TV fantasy. No responsible parent would hand over a set of keys, and let their kid immediately hit the road. Make your young driver part of the car buying process.

Take them along and have them drive a variety of cars. They’re not the only one doing the testing driving, you’re test driving your kid. See how they react behind the wheel of various cars.

Have them punch the gas to see their reaction. If they look terrified, the car has too much horsepower. Ask them to change lanes in traffic to see if they have good vision around the car. Have them parallel park to see how well they can judge the size of the car. If there’s some hesitation, maybe it’s time to try a smaller car.

Parents instinctively know when their kids feel safe. Having them as part of the buying experience will pay dividends for both of you.

You’ll make a lot of decisions for your kids. It’s possible that none will be as important as their first car. Let your teens tell you, by their actions, which car makes them feel safe. You’ll be less apprehensive knowing how easily your new driver adapted to her new car.

And when you're ready to buy, the experts at YourMechanic can conduct a thorough 150-point inspection of your new car prior to purchase. They’ll check the engine, tires, brakes, electrical system, and other critical parts of the vehicle.


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