Drive Time Tips on Picking the Right Car for Your Teen

Parents worry about their children pretty much nonstop. The apprehension usually skyrockets after teens pass their driver’s test and then can pilot a vehicle solo.

For parents, there is also the question of whether to buy a car for their child, and if so, what kind? While most teens might be drawn to the flashy, new-model cars with lots of high-tech accessories, parents think in terms of safety. Luckily, there are many resources for families ready to purchase a car for their teen.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has four criteria that they want parents to consider when picking a car for their new driver. The first is that rookie drivers “should stay away from high horsepower vehicles because more powerful engines can tempt teens to test the limits,” says Jessica Cicchino, an IIHS spokeswoman. Teens have a three-times-higher car-crash rate per mile driven than drivers ages 20 and over. Having a lower horsepower vehicle can help reduce the risk.

Which leads to the second criteria: “The ideal teen car is big, boring and slow,” Cicchino says. “Bigger, heavier vehicles will better protect teens in a crash, and we’ve also seen that teen drivers are less likely to crash bigger heavier vehicles to begin with.”

Electronic stability control is also a must, as it helps drivers maintain control of vehicles on curves or slippery roads. Finally, vehicles also should have the best safety rates possible. Cicchino advises parents to look at multiple studies and make sure the vehicle they chose rates high in all safety tests.

Many parents surveyed by IIHS considered buying used vehicles for their children. But, of course, older vehicles do not have the same safety features as newer models.

“Parents are in a tough spot when their teens begin to drive because they want to pick a safe vehicle, but they need to stay within their budget,” Cicchino says.

To help parents get started on their car search, the IIHS website, IIHS.org, offers a list of more than 80 recommended models for teens for under $20,000. “There are some choices out there that are affordable for parents,” she says — and these choices meet the organization’s four criteria.

“One of the best things parents can do is use their family car as the teen’s new car, because parents should have control over the keys,” says Morgan Cihak, teen injury prevention program manager for the National Safety Council.
But Cihak agrees if parents purchase a car for their teen, the choice needs to be the safest car they can afford. Safety features such as back-up cameras, lane-changing alerts and blind-spot monitoring systems are all good investments for new drivers, she says.

“Teens are already at high risk when it comes to driving, so if a parent is able to provide a safer car, that will help decrease the chances of their teen being in a crash,” she says.

Once a car is bought, there are other safety issues to consider. Distracted driving plays a role in many teen car crashes, so there are a number of apps parents may want to consider to stop cellphone use while driving. Cellphone blocking apps are available to stop incoming calls and texts on a device while a vehicle is in motion (911 is an exception). Some apps go further, providing parents with updates on sudden stops and high speeds.

Ford’s MyKey, for example, available on about a dozen of the brand’s models, allows parents to limit a vehicle’s top speed and the volume of the stereo, and it has a chime ring continuously until all occupants have secured seat belts.

“Things like that have the potential to help limit the kinds of risky driving that teens do, particularly systems that limit their speed,” Cicchino says.

Parents are also encouraged to make rules for their teen drivers, such as limiting the number of passengers and the hours of day they may drive. If they drive during the day and on lower- speed-limit roads, Cicchino notes the teens are at lower risk for a crash.

The good news is that Maryland has a graduated licensing system. Teen drivers are not allowed to have any passengers under the age of 18 in the car with them for the first five months after they receive their license. There is an exception for siblings or if an adult driver is with them. New drivers also are allowed to drive without supervision only from 5 a.m. to midnight. If they are driving after midnight, they need to be accompanied by an adult driver.

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