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Safe and Sound Cars

Submitted by: Anne McCartt

Posted: Jul 29, 2015 – 06:00 AM EST

Series: A Decade of Driving Change

Tags: teen drivers, safe vehicles, crash ratings, technology, allstate foundation


As the most inexperienced drivers, teens should be in vehicles that will reduce their chances of crashing and protect them if they do.    

But a national survey of parents conducted in 2014 showed that minicars or small cars were the most popular type of vehicle to buy for a teen. Further, more than half of vehicles purchased for teens were more than eight years old. Teens who drove a vehicle that the family already owned were even more likely to drive an older model -- two-thirds of those parents said the vehicle was from 2006 or earlier.

What impact does the size and age of the vehicle have on the driver? Teen drivers killed in crashes from 2008 to 2012 were more likely to be behind the wheel of small or minicars or older vehicles than middle-aged drivers killed over the same time period.

This is significant because bigger, heavier vehicles protect occupants better in a crash.  Additionally, newer vehicles are more likely to have good crash ratings, as well as important safety technology like side air bags or electronic stability control, that helps drivers maintain control of a vehicle on curves and slippery roads, exactly the circumstances that lead to many teen crashes.

Many new vehicles also offer crash avoidance technologies that warn drivers when a potential collision is detected. Some systems attempt to avoid the collision altogether if a driver doesn’t respond fast enough or not at all. Increasingly these technologies are available on mainstream, as well as luxury vehicles, and research suggests they have the potential to prevent or mitigate up to one-to-three fatal crashes and one-to-five injury crashes.

Overall, crash avoidance technologies may be especially beneficial for teen drivers, whose inexperience may make them more susceptible to distractions or lead to driving errors, such as following too closely and not adequately scanning for hazards.

Another tool showing promise in newer models is in-vehicle monitoring technology. Directed specifically at teen drivers, these options, like Allstate’s Star Driver, monitor teens’ driving activity when parents are not there. They help encourage teens to drive more safely, and parents to more fully supervise their children’s driving. An IIHS study of one such technology concluded that it reduced teens’ risky driving behavior, including speeding and not buckling up. Some insurers provide free or discounted monitoring technologies to policyholders with teen drivers.

Of course, for many families a new car isn’t in the budget. To help guide parents toward safer used vehicles for teens, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) developed recommendations based on the following principles:

  • High horsepower is risky. Vehicles with more powerful engines can tempt teens to test limits.

  • Bigger, heavier vehicles protect better in a crash. Vehicles should be midsize or larger; steer away from minicars or small cars.

  • Good safety ratings are important. Vehicles should have the best safety ratings possible from IIHS and the federal government.

  • Electronic Stability Control (ESC) is a must. This technology can reduce risk on a level comparable to seat belts.

Using these guidelines, IIHS compiled a list of nearly 100 recommended used vehicles for teens, ranging in pricing from less than $5,000 to nearly $20.000,

In the 2015 Driving Change Report by The Allstate Foundation, 85 percent of parents said they worry about their teen getting into a car crash. If parents would simply put teens behind the wheel of the safest vehicle possible, the odds of their children making it home safely will improve.


  1. Eichelberger, A.H.; Teoh, E.R.; and McCartt, A.T. 2014. Vehicle choices for teen drivers: a national survey of parents. Arlington, VA: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
  2. McCartt, A.T. and Teoh, E.R. 2014. Type, size and age of vehicles driven by teen drivers killed in crashes during 2008-12. Injury Prevention Published online first: 18 Dec 2014. doi:10.1136/injuryprev-2014-041401.
  1. Jermakian, J.S. 2011. Crash avoidance potential of four passenger vehicle technologies. Accident Analysis Prevention 43(3):732-40.
  1. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. 2014. Q&A: Crash avoidance technologies, June 2014. Arlington, VA. Accessed at:
  2. Farmer, C.M.; Kirley, B.B.; and McCartt, A.T. 2010. Effects of in-vehicle monitoring on the driving behavior of teenrs. Journal of Safety Research 41(1):39-45.

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