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Are some cars more safe than others for new drivers?

The day your kid finally gets their license is a proud moment. But also one filled with … ahem … a little trepidation?

Teens are among the riskiest drivers on the road and typically have higher insurance premiums to match. Crash rates among teens are much higher than adults. As new drivers, there’s a tendency to be overconfident, easily distracted by friends (and cell phones), and susceptible to social pressures. You’ve worked hard to instill your kid with the skills to avoid these pitfalls. Now it’s time to make sure your child’s first car is easy to drive and will keep them safe. Here’s a rundown on how to select the safest first car for your teen.

Safety first

The good news is that car companies are responding with advanced safety features and technologies to keep your teen (and everyone else on the road) safe. These are the 5 safety factors to consider when making a purchase. Budget, of course, will dictate whether to look for a new or used car.

1. Power. Consider purchasing a 4 cylinder (smaller engine) vs. 6 cylinder. Acceleration’s slower and your kid will have more control. The allure of driving more aggressively is also minimized.

2. Car size. A nimble (mid-size) 4-door sedan or compact SUV is easiest for a new driver to handle. A very small car doesn’t offer much in crash protection while too large of a car (large SUV or minivan) presents handling challenges.

3. Crashworthiness. Review the models’ records over history to ensure they consistently have high crash ratings and are continuously updating the car with features to lower crash performance. Another suggestion is to find out if the car has a forward-pre-collision detection system.

4. Safety technologies and features. Newer vehicles may be equipped with electronic signals for lane departures (and approaching vehicles), and self-braking in an impending shortstop. Driving apps come pre-installed on new vehicles to provide parents with real-time feedback on teens vehicle speed and location using the parents’ smartphone. The parent can even program the desired speed.

5. Car age. It’s worth noting that newer cars tend to be more expensive to insure, given their expensive, tech-filled parts. Older can be more affordable to insure, but outdated in terms of safety. That’s why a car somewhere in between might be optimal. It’s crash rating and safety features are up to par, but are less likely to spike your insurance. Of course, if you can afford a new car with all the safety bells and whistles, go for it.

The good news? Your auto insurance company, might even reward you with teen safety equipment discounts. Check with your insurance company on policies transitioning your teen from learners permit to a drivers license.

Top models for teen drivers

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety IIHS came out with 30 new 2019 Top Safety Pick Honors based upon crash-test performance, collision avoidance systems, and high-quality headlights.

Here are 6 models rated superior or advanced for safety features, with a bit of the cool factor.

  • Honda Insight Small 4 Door Sedan 
  • Subaru Impreza Small 4 Door Sedan 
  • Toyota Camry Midsize 4 Door Sedan 
  • BMW5 Series Large Luxury 4 Door Sedan 
  • Toyota Avalon Large 4 Door Sedan 
  • Subaru Forester Small 4-Door SUV 

Safe and affordable

In the IIHS Used Car category, heavier vehicles similar in weight to a midsize auto are your best bet, from mid-sized sedans to medium/large SUVs, minivans, and even pickups. Prices range from under $4k to $20k.

Here are a few used models to fit your budget:

  • Volvo S80 (2007 + newer) for under $4k and Volvo S60 (2011 and newer) for under $8k
  • Honda Accord Mid-size 4 Door Sedan (2013 and newer) for under $10k
  • Subaru Forester Small 4 door SUV (2014 + newer) for $12k
  • Audi A3 mid-size 4 door Luxury Sedan (2016 + newer) under $16k
  • BMW 2 Series Midsize Luxury Sedan (2015 + newer) for under $20k


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