Center for Injury Research and Prevention

Used Cars for Teens

July 16, 2014

Moderator’s Note: This post was authored by Jessica Mirman, PhD, an Applied Developmental Psychologist and Scientist and former member of the CIRP Teen Driver Safety Research team. While at CIRP, Dr. Mirman studied how interactions with parents and peers affect the development of children's health behaviors in two domains: injury/safety and health management. As of July 2016, Dr. Mirman has left CIRP@CHOP to continue her career elsewhere. 

In a report released today, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) shares its first-ever recommendations for used vehicles to help guide parents of novice teenage drivers. In a national phone survey of 500 parents of newly-licensed drivers, 83 percent of parents who bought a vehicle for their teenagers purchased it used.

In the report the IIHS states that the recommendations on teen vehicle choice are guided by four main principles:

  • Young drivers should stay away from high horsepower. Vehicles with more powerful engines can tempt them to test the limits.
  • Bigger, heavier vehicles protect better in a crash. There are no minicars or small cars on the recommended list. Small SUVs are included because their weight is similar to that of a midsize car.
  • Electronic Stability Control (ESC) is a must. This feature, which helps a driver maintain control of the vehicle on curves and slippery roads, reduces risk on a level comparable to safety belts.
  • Vehicles should have the best safety ratings possible. At a minimum, that means good ratings in the IIHS moderate overlap front test, acceptable ratings in the IIHS side crash test and four or five stars from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Consider Vehicle as “Additional Family Car” Rather Than “Teen’s Car”

In addition to being thoughtful about the type of car their teens drive, parents also need to consider how their teens get the keys and whether they will be sharing the car with other drivers, including siblings or parents. According to CIRP@CHOP research, teenage drivers with "primary access" to a vehicle are more likely to use cell phones while driving and to speed than their peers who share a car with the family. These teens are also more than twice as likely to report having been in a crash than those who share a car.

When parents hold the car keys, it creates opportunities to constructively remind teens to buckle up and to refrain from cell phone use while driving. It also offers teens the opportunity to share where they are going, who they’ll be with, and when they will return.

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