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Warning about cars teenagers drive, safer options

Auto experts sound alarm about teen driving safety

A list of the safest, cost-friendly, vehicles for teen drivers has been released.
A list of the safest, cost-friendly, vehicles for teen drivers has been released.

It's an American rite of passage when teenagers get their first car. It's a thrilling moment for the young drivers, sometimes a stressful moment for mom and dad. Now, safety advocates are warning parents and teens many young people are driving vehicles that are too small and too old.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says it surveyed 500 parents. It found minicars or small cars were the most commonly purchased type of vehicle.

Earlier, the Institute had found that teenagers killed in crashes are more likely than adults to have been behind the wheel of smaller cars. Also, a little more than half of the cars purchased for teens were from the 2006 model year or earlier. The Institute says that's a potential problem because older vehicles don't have newer safety features like electronic stability control (ESC) and side air bags.

"Many teenagers are driving vehicles that don't provide the best protection and lack important safety features," explained the Vice President of Research at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Anne McCartt

Balancing Safety and Family Budgets

Several parents told Ruth to the Rescue they put a premium on safety when it comes to their teenager's vehicle. However, they also admit they have to juggle safety and the limits of the family budget. It can be a challenging process, a lesson even teenagers learn as they start car shopping.

"I think the majority of teenagers want to buy bigger cars, but it seems like the more affordable cars are the smaller ones," said Paige Howard, a senior at L'Anse Cruese High School.

Parents also told us that putting teenagers behind a top-of-the-line, brand-new, expensive model could be a stressful option for other reasons. "Because the reality is there are a lot more fender benders, hitting mailboxes, things like that. We didn't want to get them a brand new car while they're learning," explained Donna Meldrum, a mother from Harrison Township.

Advice For Parents, New List of Recommendations

So, what's a parent to do? The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has come up with a list to help parents and their teens find safer vehicles that will also fit their budget.

The Institute suggests parents avoid cars that are too small. It also says parents should avoid models with higher horsepower that might tempt new drivers to go too fast.

"Unfortunately, our advice probably isn't that popular among teens. We often say big, boring, and slow!" said McCartt.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety also recommends parents look for newer models that come with electronic stability control, which can help drivers maintain control of vehicles on curves and slippery roads.

The warnings were well-received by the parents and teenagers that spoke with Ruth to the Rescue.

"We're not going to give him a beat down car and expect him to be safe on the road with it, " said Gib Rist, a father and owner of Chez Loulou Salon in Grosse Pointe.

"I think its worth saving up for a safest car, than just spending what you have now on one that's not so safe," said Scarlett Constand, a junior at Grosse Pointe South.

A list of all the recommended cars from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety can be found on their website, http://www.iihs.org/ . The prices start below $5,000 and are all under $20,000.