Study: Teen Driver Crash Risk Rises in Smaller Cars

What you need to know:

  • New research shows teens’ crash risk increases when they drive smaller cars.
  • Teenagers are more likely to have the least safe types of vehicles.
  • Giving teens used cars that lack advanced safety features comprises their safety.
  • The IIHS recommends buying teens cars with Electronic Stability Control and offers specific recommendations.

Crash claim rates for some teen drivers are more than double than the rates for older drivers, according to a new analysis from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

But there’s something else that compounds dangers for teen drivers: They’re also more likely to drive “the least safe types of vehicles,” said the IIHS.

Teen Drivers Are Risky … and They Drive Risky Cars

According to IIHS research on drivers, 15- to 17-year-old drivers had the lowest collision claims rates when driving “very large SUVs.”

Meanwhile, the highest claims rates came from teens driving small two-door vehicles. That rate that was almost three times higher than the rate for very large SUVs.

The types of cars teenagers drive affects not only their claims rate but also their safety. The IIHS says newer, expensive cars are safer for teens, but they often don’t get them.

According to the IIHS, surveys show that the average price tag of vehicles for teens are much less than what parents need to spend to get crucial safety features.

“Unfortunately, it’s very difficult to get a safe vehicle for a teenager at the prices most people are paying,” Anne McCartt, IIHS senior vice president for research, said in a statement, adding that parents should “remember the risks teens take and consider paying a little more.”

The same surveys found that more than 4 out of every 5 parents said they bought a used vehicle for their teenager.

IIHS Outlines Best Practices for Used-Car Buying

Along with its research, the Institute released recommendations for parents who are buying a vehicle for their teenage driverThe recommendations are “guided by four main principles”:

  • Make sure it has electronic stability control (ESC)
    IIHS called the technology “a must” for teenagers because it helps drivers retain control of their vehicles when they veer on “curves and slippery roads.” According to federal estimates in 2012, ESC technology saved thousands of lives in a two-year period.
  • Pay attention to safety ratings
    A teen’s vehicle should at least have top ratings in frontal crash tests and acceptable ratings in side crash tests, along with high marks in federal crash tests.
  • Consider bigger, heavier vehicles
    Such vehicles are safer and “protect better in a crash,” according to the Institute.
  • Don’t consider high-performance cars with a lot of horsepower
    A fast engine can easily mean a fast teen driver. And that means trouble.

According to the Institute, parents sometimes break more than one of those four guidelines, putting their teens at even greater risk.

Take for example, the “double-whammy” of small cars and minicars. “Not only are teens more likely to crash them,” the Institute said. “[T]hey also don’t offer much protection when a crash occurs because of their minimal weight and small crush zone.”

The IIHS also listed dozens of used vehicles, model years 2005 or later, that it recommends for teenage drivers at price tags of under $20,000 and $10,000.

The Institute highlighted the 2005 Volvo XC90 as a “safety bargain.” Valued at around $7,000, the Volvo model is both the cheapest vehicle on the list and one of the few to get a top rating in the Institute’s latest frontal crash test.

Auto Insurance Tips to Fight the High Cost of a Teen Driver

Talking on phone and crashing

Teens—or rather, their parents—pay a higher price for auto insurance. Teenage auto insurance is “always higher than for other drivers because as a group they pose a higher risk of accidents than more experience drivers,” according to the Insurance Information Institute (III).

Here are some tips from major car insurers that parents can use to mitigate the damage their teen will do to their auto insurance bills, including widely available discounts for good students and smartphone apps:

  • Progressive: “It’s usually cheaper to add your fresh-out-of-driver’s-ed teen to the family plan versus buying him separate auto insurance for teens.”
  • GEICO: “Good grades could add up to sizable savings.”
  • Esurance: The DriveSafe smartphone app is one of many from major insurers that sport the exact features parents want to keep their teen safe behind the wheel: text-disablers, and speed, braking and location trackers.
About Charles Nguyen
Charles Nguyen is an enterprising journalist who reported for and the Desert Dispatch and was the editor in chief of the Guardian (the twice-weekly newspaper at the University of California, San Diego) before coming to Online Auto Insurance News.

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