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Protect teen drivers with vehicles chock-full of safety features

Jake Briner checks behind his car while in a driver’s education class last year at Northeast High School in St. Petersburg.

LARA CERRI | Times (2009)

Jake Briner checks behind his car while in a driver’s education class last year at Northeast High School in St. Petersburg.

Big, boring and slow. That's the formula for teenage drivers, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a nonprofit that analyzes auto safety and driving issues. • "The vehicle choice for teens is especially crucial because of their higher risk of getting into a crash," said Russ Rader, the institute's spokesman.

The highway safety institute agreed with many of the findings of Consumer Reports, which recently issued its list of the best cars for teen drivers and emphasized the importance of the electronic stability control safety feature.

Such systems sense when a vehicle begins to slide in a turn and applies the brakes to one or more of the auto's wheels to keep the car on course, said Jim Travers, the magazine's associate autos editor.

The feature will be required on 2012 model-year vehicles, Travers said.

According to the highway safety institute, electronic stability control reduces the risk of fatal single-vehicle crashes by 50 percent and fatal multiple vehicle crashes by 19 percent. Moreover, it slashes the potential for fatal vehicle rollover accidents in cars and SUVs by at least 72 percent.

Consumer Reports and the institute both said teen drivers need vehicles with as many safety features as possible, including antilock brakes and curtain air bags.

The crash risk is four times as high for 16- to 19-year-olds as for older drivers, per mile driven, according to the institute. At age 16, the crash rate is double what it is for 18- to 19-year-olds, it said.

A small, lightweight car is not a good vehicle for a teen driver, Rader said.

Consumer Reports is more lenient and has some small cars, including the Hyundai Elantra and the Mazda 3, among its recommendations.

The magazine suggests that teens drive late-model or new vehicles, which are more likely to have safety features and less likely to break down.

Its recommendations for larger vehicles include the Acura TSX, Honda Accord, Kia Optima, Toyota Prius and Volkswagen Jetta. Travers acknowledged that some of these might be outside of a family's budget for teen transportation and recommended used conservative sedans with as many safety features as possible.

Both organizations suggest that parents should avoid SUVs and pickup trucks because of their high center of gravity and added rollover risk. They recommend staying away from performance and sports cars.

"The main issue with teens in general is that they overestimate their skills and underestimate their risks. Teens have a penchant for taking risks behind the wheel. They are more likely to speed, more likely to tailgate and they are less likely to wear their seat belts," Rader said.

On the Web

Consumer Reports:

Insurance Institute for Highway Safety crash ratings:

Protect teen drivers with vehicles chock-full of safety features 05/26/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 25, 2010 10:47pm]
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