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'Slow and Ugly' Cars Are Safest for Teen Drivers

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On: Mon, Jul 8, 2013 at 12:56PM | By: Elizabeth Puckett

'Slow and Ugly' Cars Are Safest for Teen Drivers

Parents thinking about letting their teen have (or borrow) their first car are unanimously nervous about letting their young driver get on the road. The vehicle you choose has a tremendous impact on your teen’s safety—and not only in the ways you think. When your teenage driver gets behind the wheel, their probabilty of crashing is not just about the safety features on the vehicle itself; it also has a lot to do with driver mentality. One safety advocate advises parents to opt for a car that’s slow, big, and downright embarrassing to extinguish your teen’s urge to engage in reckless driving.

John Ulczyckim, the vice president of the National Safety Council (NSA), noted that none of his six teen drivers were interested in acting up on the road. He cites a 1996 U.S. Olympic Edition Buick Skylark, which was passed down from their grandmother, for his kids' loss of interest in speeding. Ulczyckim said that his teens practically lost interest in driving entirely—every parent’s dream!

The National Safety Council VP isn’t saying that every parent should place their teenage drivers in their grandparent’s outdated car, but the premise is still valid. What this does teach us is that when choosing a car for your young driver, slow, bulky, and ugly will take the wind out of their sails. Many modern cars have far superior safety features and those benefits outweigh the ‘embarrassment’ factor of driving a vehicle with crochet seat cover and built-in Kleenex dispensers. Cars more than five years old might not exactly be ‘beaters’, but their safety features are not the best—and you want the best in safety for the driver in the family at the highest risk for an accident. Many parents opt to hang onto their older models for longer while they let their teen get the new car this time.

Important safety features include those which make it harder for the vehicle to lose control—and those which are intended to minimize injury in the event of an accident.

Modern safety feature must-haves include:
• Electronic stability control
• Side airbags
• Front collision warning
• Bind spot monitor

...Of course this is above and beyond the standard modern safety features like seat belts, anti-lock brakes, front air bags, etc.

So now we have to talk about the part your teen wants nothing to do with, the characteristics that will diffuse their driving spirit.

First, big cars are the best; that does not include SUVs which pose high roll over risk. SUVs also make it tempting to carry around a large group of friends, which is illegal in most states and distracting. Trucks may also seem like a good option, but most trucks have large engines that make them very fast. Mid-size to full size sedans are best.

Next, you’ll want to find the slowest possible big car you can find. It’s very difficult to find large vehicles with small engines, but the less horsepower the better. Also, avoid anything that has a loud exhaust system, which even very slow cars can have. You’d be surprised how much negative attention (such as other drivers trying to race) can come from a throaty sounding car, slow or not.

Last, for the full trifecta, go for ugly. Look for something that doesn't inspire your teen to want to show off. This will probably be the most difficult characteristic to nail down since a modern car with all of the safety features won’t be bulky and awkward looking like some cars from the 80s and 90s. Just wait until your teen rolls their eyes at a big slow car, and you’ve found their next ride!


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