According to a recent study conducted by the U.S.-based Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), many teenagers are driving vehicles that don't offer good crash protection and lack important safety technology.
A survey of 500 parents in the U.S. revealed that 83% of those who bought a vehicle specifically for their teenagers to drive said they bought it used, and more than half those vehicles were from the 2006 model year or earlier.
Teenagers who drove a vehicle the family already owned were even more likely to drive an older vehicle, according to the survey. Two-thirds of those parents said the vehicle was from 2006 or earlier.
That's a problem, the IIHS says, because older vehicles are much less likely to have safety features such as electronic stability control (ESC) and side airbags.
It's an understandable problem, however, for price is often a major determinant in how new a vehicle teenagers or their families can afford for their first cars.
Even at the lower end of the used market some choices are safer than others and the IIHS has compiled a list of such vehicles that typically cost less than $10,000 (US) in the U.S.
Absent from that list are small or mini cars, which the Institute says account for 28% of all vehicle purchased for teenagers. But bigger, heavier vehicles protect better in a crash it states. Small SUVs are included on its list because their weight is typically similar to that of a midsize car.
Other general recommendations on vehicles for teens include:
> Young drivers should stay away from high horsepower. Vehicles with more powerful engines can tempt them to test the limits.
> ESC is a must. This feature, which helps a driver maintain control of the vehicle on curves and slippery roads, reduces risk on a level comparable to seat belts.
> Vehicles should have the best safety ratings possible. At a minimum, that means 'good' ratings in the IIHS moderate overlap front test, 'acceptable' ratings in the IIHS side crash test and four or five stars from the (U.S.) National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
If they can't satisfy all those criteria at the price they can pay, parents should seek out a midsize or larger car, an SUV, or a minivan with the most safety they can afford, says the IIHS.
Besides ESC, specific things to look for in a used vehicle are side airbags and low horsepower. In some cases, it may be possible to find an ESC-equipped vehicle for a model on which the technology was optional.
SUVs and pickups are particularly risky when not equipped with ESC, the Institute warns, because they are the most prone to rollover crashes.
What the IIHS fails to advise, however, is how to convince teens to drive a car they may find uncool, which will probably be the case for many of those on the recommended list.
IIHS Recommended Vehicles for Teens
(For less than $10,000 (US))
Acura RL 2005 and later $9,700
Mercury Sable 2009 $9,700
Kia Amanti 2009 $9,500
Ford Taurus 2009 $9,100
Audi A6 sedan 2005 and later $8,300
Hyundai Azera 2006 and later $5,700
Subaru Legacy 2009 $9,900
BMW 3-series sedan 2006 and later $9,300
Mazda 6 2009 and later $8,900
Saturn Aura 2009 $8,800
Acura TL 2004 and later $7,900
Volvo S40 2007 and later $7,700
Audi A3 2006-07 $7,400
Mercedes-Benz C-Class 2005-08 $6,900
Suzuki Kizashi 2010 and later $6,600
Volvo S60 2007-09 $6,500
Audi A4 2005-08 $6,200
Volkswagen Passat 2006-08 $5,100
Saab 9-3 2005 and later $4,000
Nissan Rogue 2008 and later $9,800
Ford Escape 2009 and later $8,700
Mazda Tribute 2009 and later $8,100
Mitsubishi Outlander 2007 and later $6,300
Suzuki Grand Vitara 2006 and later $5,600
Mazda CX-9 2007 and later $9,800
Ford Edge 2007-10 $9,600
Hyundai Veracruz 2007 and later $9,600
Hyundai Santa Fe 2007-10 $8,900
Honda Pilot 2006 and later $8,800
Saturn Vue 2008-09 $7,700
Ford Taurus X 2008-09 $7,500
Mazda CX-7 2007-11 $7,200
Suzuki XL7 2008-09 $6,200
Volkswagen Routan 2009-11 $8,600
Dodge Grand Caravan 2008-11 $8,200
Chrysler Town & Country 2008-11 $8,100
Honda Odyssey 2005-10 $6,700
Hyundai Entourage 2007-08 $6,300
Kia Sedona 2006 and later $4,600