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Safe vehicles for teen drivers

As the school year ends, parents often think about getting a car for their teenage son or daughter. However, the combination of immaturity and inexperience makes driving especially risky for teenagers. If they’re going to drive, choosing a safe vehicle is key. In addition to safety, reliability and affordability are also top concerns for families.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and Consumer Reports (CR) have joined forces to make it easier for young drivers or their parents to find a vehicle that checks all those boxes.

Their recommendations include two tiers of used vehicles, Best Choices and slightly more affordable Good Choices. Starting prices for recommended used models range from under $6,000 to nearly $20,000. A separate list of new vehicles for teens offers an even higher level of safety.

A total of 58 used models ranging from $5,800 to $19,900 are on this year’s list. For the first time, all recommended used vehicles have a good or acceptable rating in the IIHS driver-side small overlap test, in addition to good ratings in four other IIHS tests and passing marks for braking, handling, and reliability from CR.

The top tier of recommended used vehicles also comes with standard automatic emergency braking (AEB), a good backstop for all drivers but especially for young, inexperienced ones who are more prone to mistakes.

Whatever list you’re shopping from, a teen driver’s first vehicle should follow a modified Goldilocks principle — not too small, not too big, and definitely not too fast.

IIHS and CR exclude sports cars and anything with excessive horsepower relative to its weight. Such vehicles make it too easy to speed and can tempt young drivers to take risks. The list also has no minicars or vehicles under 2,750 pounds because small, light vehicles may not provide enough protection in crashes with other vehicles.

Large SUVs and large pickups also don’t make the cut. Although these vehicles offer greater protection in some crash configurations, they can be hard to handle and take longer to stop. They also pose more risk to others on the road, including pedestrians, bicyclists, and people in smaller vehicles.

This year’s recommended vehicles include one all-electric model, the Hyundai Ioniq 6. As electric vehicles expand their market share, it’s likely that many novice drivers will be driving one in the future. Although EVs are fundamentally just as safe as gas-powered vehicles, there are concerns about rapid acceleration, even in models with a reasonable horsepower-to-weight ratio. Unlike gas engines, electric motors give drivers immediate access to all the vehicle’s power, so parents should take extra caution when giving these vehicles to teens. To view the recommended lists, go to www.iihs.org/ratings/safe-vehicles-for-teens. I highly recommend it.

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