These Are the Worst Cars for Teen Drivers

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — About 17% of drivers up to age 35 drive a Toyota and another 13% claim their first car was a Honda while only 10% opted for a Chevrolet, according to a new study.

"About a third of those who recalled the make of their first car drove a Chevy with both Impalas and Bel Airs taking the top spot," said PEMCO Insurance spokesperson Jon Osterberg.

Getting behind the wheel of a car for the first time is a memorable event. Yet inexperience brings higher risk so teen drivers need all the safety advantages they can get.

"The strong reputations of Honda and Toyota is one of the primary reasons they are favored as first cars," said Michael Barry, spokesperson with the Insurance Information Institute.

A PEMCO report found that one-third of respondents under age 55 drove a car that was more than 10 years old when they first became drivers.

"Older cars are often more affordable for parents and teens, but our poll confirms the trend we suspect that parents opt for older and sometimes smaller cars for their teens when a newer car would be a safer option," Osterberg said.

The study further disclosed that one-third of respondents under age 55 drove a car that was more than ten years old when they first became drivers.

While front-seat lap and shoulder belts became a federal standard in 1968, backseat lap and shoulder seatbelts weren't standard in vehicles until 1990.

"There are many resources for teens and parents to help select a first car that's safe, reliable and affordable," Osterberg said. "Websites that compare crash-test results and safety ratings across makes and models are often a great place to start."

For example, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration maintains crash test results and 5-star Safety Ratings on its website. According to PEMCO's poll, 36% of drivers 55 and older said their first car had lap seatbelts without shoulder harnesses and only 3% said their first car offered shoulder harnesses in addition to lap belts.

"While there's no doubt automakers have made significant advances in safety over the decades, chances are even a ten-year-old vehicle today would lack newer recommended safety features such as electronic stability control and driver head-protecting side airbags," Barry said. "You and your teenager should choose a car that is easy to drive and would offer protection in the event of a crash."

Just 4% of drivers between 35 and 54 said their first car included driver-side front airbags, a safety feature critical by today's standards since they didn't become standard in a majority of new models until 1994.

"Avoid small cars and those with high performance images that might encourage speed and recklessness," Barry said. "Trucks and sport utility vehicles (SUVS) should also be avoided, since they are more prone to rollovers."

Beyond a vehicle's age, the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) reports that the size of a car driven by teens is one of the most significant contributors to their likelihood of a crash when compared to the auto-accident rates of older drivers. Teens are twice as likely to crash a small car than their adult counterparts.

As a preventive measure, experts advise enrolling teens in driver safety education classes.

"The more driving practice your teen gets, the more confident he or she will be behind the wheel and the better able to react to challenging situations on the road," Barry said.

The HLDI study indicates that small cars are more dangerous than larger vehicles because a shorter wheelbase can be less forgiving with driving mistakes. Still, nearly 30% of teens in the U.S. drive small two-door cars and mini and small four-door cars, which have the highest claim frequency among all drivers.

"Insurance companies are helping to reduce the number of accidents involving teen drivers by subsidizing the cost of electronic devices, such as GPS systems and video cameras, which can monitor the way teens drive and alert parents of unsafe driving by email, text message or phone," Barry said.

For a chart listing mandatory minimum liability coverages in each state, visit here.

--Written by Juliette Fairley for MainStreet

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