Why Parents Should Buy Bigger, Safer Vehicles for Teen Drivers

By Jessica Cicchino | December 3, 2018

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) engages in a wide variety of work to reduce deaths, injuries and property damage from crashes, but most consumers know the IIHS for its safety ratings of new vehicles. The ratings, along with the Top Safety Pick and Top Safety Pick+ Awards, help people quickly identify which new models offer the most protection.

Four years ago, IIHS decided to offer that same kind of guidance for used vehicles with young, novice drivers in mind.

Research shows that few teen drivers get their first driving experience behind the wheel of a late-model SUV or large car. Instead, teens typically drive old hand-me-down vehicles or cheap used vehicles. Often, these older vehicles lack adequate safety essentials such as electronic stability control, a technology that makes vehicles more forgiving on slippery curves. And even if they drive new vehicles, those vehicles are more likely to be small cars and minicars, which don’t offer as much protection as larger vehicles in a crash.

IIHS’s lists of recommended used vehicles for teens, updated yearly and divided into Best Choices, which start at $20,000 or less, and Good Choices, which start at $10,000 or less, include only midsize cars or larger vehicles — no minicars or small cars. All of them come with standard electronic stability control. Vehicles with excessive horsepower are also excluded, since teenagers are apt to take unnecessary risks when driving a powerful vehicle.

Although many options on the Best Choices list are close to the $20,000 limit, there are a range of prices. The least expensive Best Choice is the 2005 Volvo XC90, which is estimated at $3,700.

Since publishing the first list of recommended used vehicles for teens in 2014, IIHS has gradually raised the bar. Today’s Best Choices list includes vehicles that earn good ratings in the IIHS moderate overlap, side, roof strength and head restraint tests, as well as good or acceptable ratings in the driver-side small overlap front test.

This year, we are also factoring in data from an IIHS affiliate, the Highway Loss Data Institute, on insurance claim rates under first-party injury coverages. Models with substantially higher than average claim rates under medical payment or personal injury protection coverage have been scratched from the list. The data HLDI collects provide another perspective on how vehicles keep their occupants safe in the real world.

The models on the Good Choices list earn good ratings in the IIHS moderate overlap front, side, head restraints and roof strength tests. This is the first year that roof strength has been factored in for the under-$10,000 Good Choices list. The change reflects the growing availability of good roof strength throughout the used vehicle fleet.

Obviously, safety is just one of the factors people consider when choosing a vehicle, but we hope parents will give it extra consideration when purchasing a vehicle for their teenage son or daughter. Research has shown that young, novice drivers are at greater risk, due to immaturity and inexperience behind the wheel.

What these recommendations show is that parents don’t have to spend a fortune to keep their new driver safe. If they are willing to spend a little time looking for a good deal on the right used vehicle, they can find something that will offer far better protection than the latest small car.

About Jessica Cicchino

Cicchino is vice president, research at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Access the teen vehicle recommendations at iihs.org/teenvehicles.

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