5 Ways to Make Sure Your New Car Is Teen-Driver Friendly

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One of the best strategies for choosing a safe car for your teen is to leave them at home when you shop — at least initially.

Spiffy new technology and major horsepower invariably catch young adults’ eyes. Those extras might not be the best choice for novice drivers.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking your teen can beat the odds. Teens ages 16 to 19 have three times the number of fatal crashes as those 20 and older, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). Why? Teens are more likely to underestimate dangerous situations, speed, tailgate and ignore seat belts, reports the Centers for Disease Control.

“If the child is choosing, it’s just not going to work. That’s the hardest part,” said Steve Halloran of CarGurus. “I can understand why [car buyers] want their children involved. A car is a huge enough purchase that … parents want to insure the car can be passed along.”

Here are five musts to consider when choosing a car that experienced and new drivers will share:

1. Check crash test ratings

The IIHS and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) are the two most respected crash test safety organizations. The problem, though, is that if you’re buying a car for a teen, you are likely looking for one that is used. No one wants to stand on a dealer’s lot, trying to check individual safety ratings. The good news is that there are cheat sheets. Several sites offer lists of teen-friendly cars including the nonprofit IIHS, which also includes probable prices.

2. Don’t assume all cars have the same safety devices and technology

That’s especially true for older cars and even some foreign-made. Antilock braking systems (to maintain stability during hard braking), daytime running lights (to increase visibility), electronic stability control (to increase stability on slick roads or during top speeds), adjustable/lockable head restraints (to provide maximum protection against whiplash), and multiple airbags (including side-impact airbags that reduce driver fatality risk by 37 percent in cars and 52 percent in SUVs), are among the recommendations from the American Automobile Association (AAA). “This is a bellwether for safety,” said Halloran. “Automakers are now routinely offering [safety features such as anti lane crossing technology) that had only been offered in luxury cars.”

3. Avoid high-powered cars

Yes, teens like muscle cars but a four-cylinder engine’s limited acceleration is a more prudent choice for novice drivers, noted Edmunds.com. “No car today is really underpowered, so don’t hesitate to go with a smaller four-cylinder engine rather than a larger V6,” AAA Auto Repair Manager Michael Calkins told Edmunds. It’s also best to avoid sports cars and stick with sedans. Sports cars not only encourage teens to take more driving chances, but they cost more to insure.

4. Consider cars with teen-designed technology

Many automakers have designed some technologies with younger drivers in mind. One example is Ford’s “MyKey,” which allows parents to program the key to limit vehicle top speeds, decrease audio volume and mandate seat belt use. Chevy has a “Teen Driving” system that includes a report on how often a car is driven above pre-set speeds. “Several major automakers have developed similar systems,” said Halloran. “They allows parents to have a virtual presence in the car.”

5. Stop bending the rules

AAA recently reported 87 percent of drivers engaged in at least one risky behavior — think not wearing a seatbelt — within a one-month period. Show your child you use the safety features in the car. And discuss those features with your teen. Safety features won’t protect someone if they don’t use them or think they are worthless. “I would strongly encourage parents to set a good example,” said Halloran. “Watching parents is [one way] kids learn to drive.”

What is your approach to safety for teen drivers? Share with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.

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