Your teen is turning 16 and can’t wait to get behind the wheel. For parents, though, it’s time for a tough decision: What car should your child drive to be safe?
Let’s look at some sobering statistics. Vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among teenagers in the United States, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The key reason, it found, is lack of driving experience and 16 is the most dangerous age. But don’t fret too much. With a bit of homework, you can prepare yourself and your new driver to be safe, and choose an appropriate vehicle. We’ll help you get started.
BEFORE YOU BUY
1. Consider your child’s maturity and temperament. Is he or she responsible enough to drive safely? Has he or she earned the privilege to do so?
2. Who’s paying? Before you buy a car, decide who will pay for it , as well as who will cover the cost of fuel, insurance, maintenance and parking fees.
3. Proper training is essential. Your child might receive instruction in school or at home, but there are other options available.
A good place to start is Tidewater AAA’s Dare To Prepare, a teen driver training course that parents and their teens can attend before learning to drive. Call (757) 233-3888. In addition, Racing schools and some auto manufacturers – such as BMW – offer more in-depth and thorough training specifically for teen s. Make sure the school is fully accredited and licensed by the Department of Motor Vehicles.
4. Lead by example. Children will pick up your driving habits –good and bad. “It’s critical; you’ve got to mind your own driving habits. You are setting an example,” said Jim Travers, associate editor, autos at Consumer Reports.
WHAT TO BUY
The starter car Experts including AAA and Consumer Reports recommend a passenger car as a teen’s first vehicle because they have predictable handling in emergency situations. “Best choice can be a hand-me-down, especially if it’s the family sedan,” Travers said.
What to avoid At the top of the list are SUVs, pickups and sports cars. “Unfortunately, chances are your child’s first choice isn’t the best choice for them,” Travers said. “SUVs and pickups with a higher center of gravity have a higher rollover risk and don’t handle as well.” Sports cars, though more nimble, might tempt teens to test their performance.
Does size matter? No, Travers said. “Big doesn’t equate with safe. The car is not going to be as manageable as a smaller, more nimble model. It’s not going to steer or brake as well.”
LOOK AT THE DETAILS
Safety first Check the car’s crash-test rating, available free online at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (www.iihs.org) or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (www.nhtsa.dot.gov). On IIHS tests, look for cars with “top pick” or “good” ratings. On NHTSA tests, the best vehicles have four or five stars.
Key features “Electronic stability control has been said to be the biggest safety development since the development of the seat belt,” Travers said. I t’s been commonly available only since 2006, though. Travers also advises looking for cars with the greatest number of airbags that you can afford, as well as anti-lock brakes.