Study Suggests Old Cars Lack Safety Features Needed for Inexperienced Teen Drivers

Study Suggests Old Cars Lack Safety Features Needed for Inexperienced Teen Drivers
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January 20, 2015

Driving an old clunker is a rite of passage for most teens as parents avoid shelling out money for cars their children will likely wreck in one way or another.

A study funded by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) found that these cars may be contributing to teen auto deaths by lacking the safety features intended to keep them safe.

Using Fatality Analysis Reporting System data on fatal accidents from 2008 through 2012, an analysis of 2,500 teens found that 82 percent were killed in crashes while driving cars more than six years old. Nearly half, 48 percent, were in cars more than 11 years old.

New cars provide increasingly more safety features, including Electronic Stability Control (ESC), which can help a young, amateur driver keep control of the car if he or she skids. Overconfident teens drive faster and more recklessly than older, more experienced drivers, making them twice as likely to have an accident. It seems to reason that teens would benefit most from a safer car with more safety features.

While there seemed to be a correlation between small, old cars and teen deaths, researchers could not tell if more teens died because the cars are, in fact, more dangerous or if more teens drive old cars.

Financially, it might be tough to consider buying a new car for a teen driver while parents drive a car that was new when their teens were in diapers. The IIHS put together a list of used cars with price tags that may be easier to swallow. The price range varies from a $4,000 2005 Saab 9-3 to a $19,900 2011 Buick Enclave.

Small cars tend to be cheaper, but don't offer the same crash protection as a larger car so the IIHS left all small and mini cars off the list. IIHS data also found that teen drivers are less likely to crash a heavier car in the first place.

Parents should also steer their kids away from cars with high horsepower, regardless of the safety features. Powerful engines can prove too tempting for an inexperienced driver.

The IIHS puts ESC as a must-have safety feature because it helps the driver maintain control on curves and slippery roads. The feature can reduce injury risk comparable to safety belts. Check out a video of how it works here.

Parents should find a car that has the best safety ratings possible. For the IIHS, this means at least good ratings in the moderate overlap front test and acceptable ratings in the side crash test. It should also get at least four or five stars from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).