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Newly licensed? The best car features for the rookie driver

Posted: 4:13 PM, Oct 22, 2018
Updated: 2018-10-23 12:07:03Z

A license to drive is the key to freedom for teens. But it's also the source of anxiety for parents.  

And understandably so.

According to the latest numbers from the CDC, 2,433 teenagers from the age of 16 to 19-years-old were killed in vehicle crashes in the US in 2016. That equates to six people in that age group every day.

"People always ask when I'm teaching if they can go over the speed limit 10 miles," said Ernie Salazar, owner of Deer Valley Driving School. "I'm like no let's go the speed limit, that's why it's posted that way."

Salazar opened the driving school six years ago. He said most later car models have advanced technology that makes them safer for teens than anything their parents started out in.  

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, there are four main points to think about when choosing a suitable vehicle for your teen:

  • Young drivers should stay away from high horsepower. More powerful engines can tempt them to test the limits.
  • Bigger, heavier vehicles are safer. They protect better in a crash, and HLDI analyses of insurance data show that teen drivers are less likely to crash them in the first place. There are no minicars or small cars on the recommended list. Small SUVs are included because their weight is similar to that of a midsize car. 
  • Electronic stability control (ESC) is a must. This feature, which helps a driver maintain control of the vehicle on curves and slippery roads, reduces risk on a level comparable to safety belts.
  • Vehicles should have the best safety ratings possible. At a minimum, that means good ratings in the IIHS moderate overlap front, side and head restraint tests and four or five stars from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

Salazar said he sees students with big engines in their vehicles. He believes some young people are responsible enough to not test the limits, but a four-cylinder is usually sufficient.

"Sometimes you can have too much (horsepower). When they master it, that's when they shouldn't have the horsepower, they might abuse it," said Salazar.

But for many families, it comes down to how much they can pay. The IIHS published a list of safe but affordable used vehicles, starting at $2,000. Among the best options, a Volvo S-80, 2007 or newer, Dodge Avenger, 2011-2014, and Mitsubishi Outlander Sport 2011 or newer. But Salazar says no bells and whistles and safety ratings can replace practice and mindfulness.

"30 hours (of driving) is the state requirement, 10 hours at night and 20 during the day, but I recommend double that for your teen," he said. "The more they drive, the safer they're going to be and the more practice they have."

If you're thinking about buying your teen a used car, you can type in the VIN on the NHTSA website to make sure there are no recalls on that vehicle.