Smaller, older vehicles may put teen drivers at increased risk

Last updated: 08-23-2020

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Smaller, older vehicles may put teen drivers at increased risk

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- It’s no secret that a lack of experience and high risk thresholds place teen drivers at an increased risk of harm or death.

However, despite these known factors, new research from the country’s leading vehicle safety experts found that teen drivers continue to find themselves in the smallest, oldest and least-safe cars on the market.

Earlier this month, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) released a new study analyzing the types of vehicles that teen and adult drivers have been killed in between 2013 and 2017.

Researchers found that over 25% of teen drivers killed in crashes in 2013 through 2017 were driving micro, mini or small cars, with nearly two-thirds of them driving vehicles that were between six and 15 years old.

“It’s understandable that parents don’t want to shell out big bucks for their teen’s first car, and they probably don’t realize how much safer a newer, larger vehicle is,” says IIHS research scientist Rebecca Weast, lead author of the paper.

Small cars typically offer significantly less protection in a crash than larger vehicles, with older cars also less protective due to the potential absence of now-standard safety features, such as side air bags and electronic stability control.

As part of the study, researchers evaluated the types of vehicles involved in fatal crashes for drivers in two distinct age groups: 15-17 and 35-50.

What researchers found was that among drivers killed in crashes between 2013 and 2017, teen drivers were driving a micro, mini or small car 28% of the time, compared to just 19% of adults. Additionally, the vehicles in which teens were killed were 250 pounds lighter, on average, than the vehicles driven by adults.

In terms of vehicle age, 38% of teen drivers were killed in vehicles that were between 11-15 years old, compared to just 32% of adults, according to the research.

Not only were a large portion of teens driving some of the oldest vehicles remaining on the road, but an exceptionally small portion were driving the newest vehicles.

Researchers found that less than 4% of teen drivers killed were in vehicles under three years old, compared to 9% of adults.

The availability of modern safety features, like side air bags and electronic stability control, was also far less prevalent in the vehicles being driven by teens, with adult drivers’ vehicles nearly 1.6 times more likely to come equipped with the newer safety standards.

“Despite everything we know about young drivers and crash risk, teens are still driving the least safe vehicles,” Weast says.

With these issues in mind, the IIHS recently teamed up with Consumer Reports to create a list of the safest, most affordable used cars for teen drivers.

“Our focus has always been safety, as reflected in our vehicle ratings, but we recognize that a lot of other factors go into families’ purchasing decisions,” says IIHS President David Harkey. “This partnership with Consumer Reports will help new drivers and their parents zero in on the best used vehicles overall.”

The list of 65 vehicles, ranging from approximately $5,000 to $20,000, includes Good Choices and Best Choices, with the Best Choices offering slightly more safety than the Good Choices.

However, all vehicles in the Good Choices or Best Choices categories meet the following requirements: standard electronic stability control (ESC); above-average reliability based on Consumer Reports surveys; average or better score on the Consumer Reports emergency handling test; dry braking distances of less than 145 feet from 60 mph in Consumer Report’s brake tests; four or five stars from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration; good ratings in four IIHS crashworthiness tests — moderate overlap front, side, roof strength and head restraints.

“We are delighted to be able to team up with IIHS to jointly develop a list of used vehicles for teens that deliver a smart and effective combination of safety technology and reliability, all without breaking the bank,” said Jennifer Stockburger, director of operations at Consumer Reports’ Auto Test Center. “Vehicles on this list can help teens stay safe as they gain driving experience.”

Click here for a full breakdown of the 65 safest, most affordable used cars for teen drivers.


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