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Experts say larger cars best fit for teen drivers

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) - Many parents think about buying a used car after their child gets a driver's license. 

For a new, inexperienced driver, the choice could directly impact a child's safety, health, and life. Many young drivers want their first set of wheels to be something cute or cool looking, but parents often lean more toward the inexpensive. 

That, in many cases, turns out to be a small or compact car. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) says that's a mistake.

Statistics show teens are at a higher risk for crashes because of their inexperience. When it comes to a car for a new driver, there are four things parents need to remember when it comes to buying their new driver a used vehicle.

“Bigger and heavier vehicles are safer for occupants,” says Jessica Cicchino, a vice president for research at the IIHS.

The IIHS also says that, although small cars are not good choices, small SUVs, which weigh about the same as midsize cars, are OK.

It also says teens need a car with electronic stability control. This technology, mandatory since the 2012 model year, helps a driver maintain control on curves and slippery roads. It's a proven lifesaver, cutting single-vehicle fatal crash risk nearly in half.

The car should have good crashworthiness ratings from either the IIHS or the federal government..

“On our best choices list, we’re looking at insurance losses,” Cicchino said. "Vehicles with substantially higher average injuries or insurance losses don’t appear on out best choices list.”

Hgh horsepower vehicles should also be avoided.

“Teens like to take risks and a high horsepower vehicle can tempt them to test their limits,” Cicchino said.

The institute conducted a pair of front-to-front crash tests demonstrating what happens to small cars and minicars — even new ones with stellar safety ratings — when they collide with larger used vehicles from the same manufacturer.

The results show the importance of size and weight when it comes to occupant protection.

In the first of the two demonstration tests, a used 2016 Kia Sorento, a midsize SUV, and a 2018 Kia Forte, a small car, collided with each other at 40 mph, with 50 percent of the smaller vehicle’s width overlapping the larger vehicle.

In the second test, a used 2015 Toyota Avalon, a large car, was paired with a 2018 Toyota Yaris iA, a minicar again going 40 mph, with a 50 percent overlap.

Both the Sorento and the Avalon are among the IIHS Best Choices for teens. The Forte and the Yaris iA have good ratings in the five IIHS tests relevant to driver protection, and the Forte is a 2018 TOP SAFETY PICK+ winner.

Yet, even with their safety ratings, the crash test dummies fared far worse in the small cars.

“The drivers of the smaller vehicles in a real world crash would be at high risk of having head injuries,” Cicchino said.  

The bottom line: for a new teen driver, a larger used vehicle is better than a new smaller vehicle, even if the price is the same.

 “If you’re riding in one of the smallest vehicles on the road, you’ll be at a disadvantage in a crash with almost any other vehicle around you,” Cicchino said.

The IIHS has come up with this list of over 100 vehicles ranging in price from $5,000 to $20,000 that would be the kind of car that’ll best protect a teen.


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