What Are the Safest Cars for Your Teenager?

What Are the Safest Cars for Your Teenager?

When a teenager is finally ready to start driving on their own, it can be the scariest time in any parent’s life. It’s natural to worry about your child facing dangers like reckless or drunk drivers and foggy mornings when they are first venturing out alone. Of course, the greatest danger to teenage drivers is themselves. 

Peer pressure and inexperience are two of the biggest factors that make teens more dangerous behind the wheel. Teenagers have the highest crash rate of any age group, especially when driving with other teens in the car. Teens are three times more likely to be in a fatal crash than drivers who are 20 and older. 

Florida ranks as the 9th most deadly state for teen drivers, with 110 deaths per 100,000 drivers compared to the national average of 88 deaths per 100,000. In the Sunshine State, teens are 64% more likely to be involved in a car accident than older drivers. 

In addition to driver’s education, choosing the right car is one of the best ways for you to protect your child. Here’s what to look for in your teen’s first car and recommendations for safe vehicles. 

What To Look For in a Teenager’s First Car

Parents can make many missteps when purchasing a car for a teenager. It’s tempting to buy your teen the car they’ve been begging for, especially if it looks safe and fits your budget. Maybe you’re tempted to choose something budget-friendly, assuming it’ll be inevitably banged up by an inexperienced driver. You may even be considering an SUV based on the assumption that its size makes it safer. 

Here’s what you should really look for in a safe first car for a teenager. You can weigh these crucial features against the price to narrow down your options. 

Medium-Sized Cars Are Safest For Teens

Larger vehicles offer more protection than smaller vehicles in a crash. When two vehicles collide, the larger and heavier vehicle will push the lighter vehicle backward. This puts more force on the occupants of the smaller vehicle and less force on the occupants of the larger vehicle. 

As vehicle size increases, occupant deaths in collisions decrease. Small and compact vehicles account for 75% of vehicle models with the highest rates of driver death.

However, large vehicles have several drawbacks when it comes to safety – especially when they are operated by inexperienced drivers. Larger cars and pickup trucks need more space to brake. This is dangerous for teenage drivers who already tend to speed and follow too closely. 

Vans, pickups, and SUVs also have the highest risk of rollover accidents, which account for a disproportionate share of fatal crashes. 

A medium-sized car offers the best compromise of crash protection, power, and control.

Lower Horsepower Is Safer and Reduces Speeding

Teen drivers are likely to speed due to peer pressure, overestimating their driving ability, and general inexperience. Male teens and teens with peers in the vehicle have the highest rates of speeding and speed-related crashes. About 43% of teenage drivers involved in fatal crashes in Florida were speeding, compared to 30% for other age groups. 

Avoid vehicles with a high horsepower because it makes it too easy to speed, even accidentally. For a teen driver, a car with an average horsepower of 110 to 150 hp is perfect. 

Safety Features Can Help Teen Drivers

You may want to look for a vehicle with safety features designed to prevent collisions to help your teen stay safe. 

Good safety features to look for include: 

  • Anti-lock brakes (ABS)
  • Side airbags
  • Electronic stability control
  • Automatic emergency braking
  • Forward collision warning
  • Lane departure warning (LDW)
  • Active lane-keeping assistance or lane centering
  • Blind spot monitoring

A car with a crash imminent braking (CIB) system is recommended for teenage drivers. These systems use sensors to detect when a collision is imminent and apply braking automatically. Warning systems that monitor lane departure and blind spots can help young drivers avoid lane change crashes

Check Crash Ratings

After considering the factors above, check car safety ratings before choosing a car. The NHTSA and IIHS are the two groups that rate vehicles for safety and perform crash testing. The NHTSA has a 5-star scoring method, and the IIHS rates vehicles as Good, Acceptable, Marginal, or Poor. 

The Safest Cars For Teenagers By Size

Here are small to midsize cars and SUVs with the highest safety ratings that make good options for a teen’s first vehicle.

Safest Small Cars

Small and compact cars are usually not a good option for teenagers because they do not offer much protection in collisions with larger vehicles. 

If you do opt for a small car, good options include: 

  • Subaru Impreza (2018 to 2022)
  • Ford C-Max Hybrid (2014 to 2016)
  • Mazda 3 hatchback or sedan (2014 to 2020)

All three were named Top Safety Picks by the IIHS, and the Mazda and Subaru received 5-star overall ratings from the NHTSA.

Safest Midsize Cars

The safest option for a teenager is a midsize car. 

Highly rated options include: 

  • Honda Accord (2013 to 2023)
  • BMW 3 series (2017 to 2023)
  • Subaru Legacy (2013 to 2021)
  • Mazda 6 (2014 to 2018)
  • Subaru Outback (2015 to 2018)
  • Volkswagen Passat (2017)

All of these midsize cars were IIHS Top Safety Picks and received 5-star overall NHTSA ratings.

Safest SUVs For Teenagers

SUVs usually are not recommended for teen drivers because they have a rollover risk. If you decide to get an SUV, here are some models with the highest safety ratings. Rollover risks are included, too. 

  • Hyundai Santa Fe Sport (2018) – midsize SUV, 14.3% rollover risk
  • Acura RDX (2016 or newer) – midsize SUV, 15.5% rollover risk
  • Nissan Murano (2015 or newer) – midsize SUV, 15.1% rollover risk
  • Honda HR-V (2017 or newer) – small SUV, 13.5% rollover risk
  • Mazda CX-5 (2014 or newer) – small SUV, 16.9% rollover risk
  • Honda CR-V (2015 or newer) – small SUV, 17.4% rollover risk

The Honda HR-V is a small SUV with the lowest rollover risk of all small to midsize SUVs, but it does not have the best frontal crash safety rating. The other small SUV models have slightly higher rollover risks but 5-star overall ratings for side and frontal crash protection. 

If you’re looking for a larger SUV, the 2018 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport is a great value with many safety features. It includes lane departure warning, crash imminent braking, and more.

A Safe Vehicle Can Reduce Your Teen’s Risk of Injuries 

Equipping your teen driver with the education and training they need and the safest car possible can help them develop into a smart, responsible motorist. If your teenager is involved in a crash, a safe vehicle can reduce the risk of serious injury.