Can I Have the Keys? – Things That Parents Should Consider When Buying a Car for Their Teen Driver


It’s something to take seriously; the leading cause of death among teens in North America is by accidental injury. Handing the keys over to my 16-year old daughter has become increasingly easier as she gains experience. Each time I drive with her, I notice improved skills- smoother turns, lane changes that aren’t jerky anymore, lots of advance warning to other drivers about what her intentions are, and an overall increasing sense of calm behind the wheel. She is proving herself to be a great driver- better than both her parents, as far as safely following the rules of the road go, to be sure. As a family, we need to purchase a new, (used) car. I’ve been exploring issues around teenage drivers and here is what I’ve found. I thought you should know.

Teenage Drivers

First of all, safety has to be the number one criteria in the car that we purchase for our teenage drivers over the next few years. I refuse to get something with more than 5 seat belts, as I want to limit the number of friends she is able to transport. As much as I am a cheapskate who loves to bargain shop for my next pair of jeans, I plan to look into purchasing, no- investing in a newer model that has up-to-date safety features, especially Electronic Stability Control (ESC).

Known by a few different names, according to the make of vehicle you’re talking about, ESC is the single-most effective safety improvement in vehicles over the last several years. It originated in Germany, and is now widely standard in many newer makes and models. Essentially, it is a set of sensors and controls that prevents things like side-skidding and fishtailing— which, for an inexperienced driver, usually result in over-steering or, even worse, rollovers. These controls are set to engage the brakes on specific wheels, based on the tilt, speed, etc. of the vehicle through a turn, say. And I was impressed with ABS when it came on to the scene! ESC covers for my teenager’s impulsive reaction to an emergency; the split seconds where it engages before she does could mean the difference between her life and her death. That’s worth a few hundred dollars as an added option onto the MSRP.

Additional features of an ideal vehicle for teenage drivers include things such as:

  • maneuverability- it has to be easy enough to be maneuvered through parking lots and back alleys, but not too small that it compromises crash protection, as many sub-compacts and compacts are infamous for
  • make sure it’s a large enough car with sufficient bulk, which affords crash protection- such as with a midsize sedan
  • low center of gravity to prevent rollovers- being low to the ground will build in protection for the chance that your teen takes a corner a little too fast
  • acceleration with not too much “muscle”- your teen has to be able to easily merge onto a highway, but shouldn’t be given more horsepower than is necessary as it’s just too tempting to speed or drive recklessly
  • side curtain airbags- these gems can not only cushion and protect, but also act to keep occupants safely inside of a crashed car, as opposed to being thrown out of it
  • communications features such as Bluetooth connectivity and iPod interfaces to reduce distraction as it relates to entertainment and communication

Here Are Two Authoritative Resources For Parents of Teenage Drivers

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has excellent resources on teens, driving and safe vehicles for you to explore. Their 2016 Top Safety Picks is a great listing of recommendations for your next vehicle purchase for your teen. The National Highway Safety Traffic Administration is another good place to start your research. Look into crash test results for yourself; valuable information for consumers is available.

I have already begun to involve my daughter in researching this very important topic with me, for us. I imagine that her list of must-haves will look significantly different from what I’ll be looking for in our new vehicle. But, I can rest assured knowing that she’ll have a pretty good shot at being able to safely enjoy her wish list if I make sure that I get mine.