The Safest Cars for Teens - ThirdAge

By Dana Dratch Bankrate.comWant your teen to be safe on the road? Buy a tank.Teens and roads have always been a dangerous combination. Statistically speaking, teens are more likely to get into accidents and more likely to die in those accidents than any other age group.Just look at your insurance premium. Add a teen to your policy and your rates go up no matter what he or she is driving. "Having a young driver added to your insurance will raise the rate 50 to 100 percent," says Jeanne Salvatore, vice president of consumer affairs for the Insurance Information Institute. So how do you keep your teens safe on the road? Teach them safe driving, enforce those safety rules and make sure the car they are driving won't exaggerate their errors and inexperience.Below are some features to include and avoid to maximize teen auto safety. We also provide a list of cars that meet those standards, and that have received the highest marks on various crash tests.Safety Features to Include Side airbags that protect the head and chest: Different car makers take different approaches, says Mark Krawczyk, consumer information director for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a branch of the U.S. Department of Transportation. "The trend is now more curtain airbags for the head and more door-mounted for the chest," he says.
You want a system of airbags that will protect the head and chest from the front and side in the event of a crash. In many cars, some airbags (especially the side curtain variety) are optional, so you may have to pay extra to get the safety you want. And don't confuse side airbags (which protect the chest) with side curtain airbags (which protect the head).And it's a given that you want front driver and passenger airbags.Electronic stability control: Different makers will call this feature different things. "The technology is designed to help drivers maintain control of vehicles during extreme steering maneuvers," says Krawczyk.The feature "cuts single vehicle crashes by more than half in our studies," says Susan Ferguson, senior vice president of research for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.Anti-lock brakes (ABS): These allow a driver to maintain control of the steering during hard or emergency braking situations, says Krawczyk.And it's just as important to teach kids how to use anti-lock brakes. When you "hit the brakes hard, you will feel a pulsating vibration," says Krawczyk. That means it's working, and you keep your foot on the brake.Size: You want some car between your kid and the rest of what's on the road. In 2003, a study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that large, four-door passenger cars had the lowest fatality rates.

"Small cars have about twice the fatality rate as larger cars for everyone," says Ferguson. "Generally speaking the larger the car, the better."

That's why many parents choose an SUV for their teens. But many experts feel that's a mistake because SUVs are more prone to roll over, and teens are more prone to one-car accidents that lead to rollover.

Drivers of ages 16 to 20 are more than twice as likely to be involved in a rollover in SUVs than an older driver, says Krawczyk.

In addition, Ferguson adds, "They can be a little more difficult to handle, particularly for young drivers, who are inexperienced and immature."

Easy to drive: You don't want to put a kid in "any car that requires some skills to drive," says Gabriel Shenhar, senior automobile test engineer for Consumer Reports. "You definitely want a safe, secure and forgiving car."

Seatbelts: All cars have them. Make sure your teen actually uses them.

Good crash performance: Most of the auto crash testing is done by two groups. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration conducts crash tests on front- and side-impact accidents, as well as rollover risk. They give tested cars between one (worst) and five (best) stars. Look up cars at safercars.gov.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety is an independent nonprofit group funded by the auto insurance industry that also conducts crash tests. They examine front, side and rear impacts or any combination of those. Ratings are good, acceptable, marginal or poor. You can look up results for these tests at IIHS.org.

Features to Avoid When it comes to teen drivers, what a car lacks is also important."One thing I'd caution against is putting teens in cars that are high-powered," says Ferguson. "They will use that power and speeding is a factor in fatal crashes for teenagers."What about the idea of avoiding problems with a little acceleration? "Teenagers don't do well in those emergency situations anyway," she says. "The concern for us is that they will drive faster in those cars."What you want instead is "something basically larger and boring," says Ferguson. "Teens may not like it, but it's better for them."With teens, distractions are a big danger. So limit features like thumping stereos and DVD players that might take their minds away from the wheel.Another thing to avoid: problem vehicles. Make sure you're not buying a car that's been recalled. And even if the manufacturer hasn't issued a formal recall, are other owners or consumer groups seeing a pattern of problems? Some sites to check out your teen's car: The Center for Auto Safety, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and AllData (a service by AutoZone).Prepare Your Driver Even a safe car is only as safe as the person at the wheel. So whatever you buy, invest some time (and yes, maybe even money) in teaching the rules of the road. The biggest danger to teens: their overconfidence in their own abilities, combined with a lack of experience. Train them before you turn them loose. Check up on them frequently. Make buckling up a habit and ban cell phones while they're driving.
One of the biggest dangers: a group of teens in one car. Not only does the situation create more distractions, it also increases the likelihood that some won't be wearing seatbelts. And the more people you pile into an SUV, the more you increase the risk of rollover, says Ferguson. "Extra passengers in an SUV make it more unstable."Cars That Make the Grade The 2005, 2004 and 2003 four-door Volvo S80 with side airbags are full-sized cars that have anti-lock brakes and airbags that protect the head and chest. They can also be purchased with optional electronic stability control. They earned five out of five stars in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's front- and side-impact crash tests, and the top score for minimizing risk of rollover. They also got the highest overall marks by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety for front- and rear-impact crashes.Unfortunately, with other models, you have vehicles that do well in front and side crashes, but not as well in rear-impact accidents. In some cars, buyers will also have to pay extra to get airbags that protect the head and chest from the front and side. In addition, heavier cars tend to do better in multiple car accidents. But most crash tests specify that autos should not be measured against vehicles more than a couple of hundred pounds larger -- something to take into account when shopping around. However, for practicality, several midsize cars are included. Also, unless specified, all cars are full-size (or heavy) and two-wheel drive.
These three cars earned five stars for the government's front- and side-impact crashes but present a slightly (1 to 2 percent) higher risk of rollover than a five-star rating would allow. Their success on front and side impacts are corroborated by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety tests. But on that group's rear crashes, these cars earned marginal or poor ratings: (Midsize) 2005 four-door Mitsubishi Galant with side airbags. Combination airbags are standard, anti-lock brakes are optional and no electronic stability control is available. Rear impact rating (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety): poor. (Midsize) 2004 two-door Toyota Camry Solara Coupe with side airbags. Anti-lock brakes are standard and electronic stability control is optional. Crash test results include curtain airbags, which are optional. Strangely enough, cloth seats did better in rear crashes (third worst out of four) than those with leather seats (fourth out of four), according to tests by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. (Midsize) 2004 two-door Honda Accord with side airbags. Anti-lock brakes are standard and electronic stability control is not available. While some airbags come standard, curtain and additional torso airbags are optional. Rear-impact rating: poor. The following car earned top ratings in front-, side- and rear-crash tests from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety but was not tested by the government or rated for rollover risk:
(Midsize) 2005 Saab 9-3 with side airbags. It comes standard with side curtain and front airbags, anti-lock brakes and electronic stability control. Automatic transmission, recommended for teens, is optional. Crash test results did not include the convertible version. All three versions are turbo, but for teen driving, opt for the 175 horsepower Linear, rather than the 210 horsepower Arc or Aero models. These two cars earned five stars in government front- and side-crash tests but present a 1 percent higher risk of rollover than a five-star rating would allow. There is no corroborating data on front- and side-crashes from the Insurance Institute, and no information on rear-impact crashes: 2005 four-door Mercury Montego. Anti-lock brakes are standard, as are some airbags. Side curtain and torso airbags are optional and electronic stability control is not available. 2005 four-door Ford Five Hundred. Anti-lock brakes are standard, along with some airbags. Side curtain and torso airbags are optional, and electronic stability control is not available. Dana Dratch is a freelance writer based in Atlanta.Bankrate.com is the Web's leading aggregator of information on financial products including mortgages, credit cards, new and used automobile loans, money market accounts, certificates of deposit, checking and ATM fees, home equity loans and online banking fees. Visit Bankrate.com to get the tools and information that can help you make the best financial decisions.
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