Parents should consider what to car buy for a teen driver carefully. Safety should be the primary goal.

These are the vehicles that will provide the best protection for your new driver.

While a teen driver can create worry and additional expenses for parents, your teen driver’s new independence can be a big benefit.

3-Part Series: Teen Drivers. Understanding the Risk.

Do you have a teen driver or getting ready for one? Check out our 3-part series about teen driving. We've gathered plenty of great info and resources.

Part 1: Start With The Basics

Part 2: Driving Practice

Part 3: The Perfect First Car

Your newly licensed driver can now handle some of those quick errands. It can also free parents from having to make multiple stops to and from school and other activities.

What you’ll quickly learn is that car-time will become an issue. An additional vehicle makes life more convenient for the entire household. Not to mention, that it will prevent arguments over gas money and maintenance.

Safety First, When Buying a Vehicle for Inexperienced Drivers

Statistically, until about 1500 hours of actual road time, new drivers run a much higher risk of being involved in an accident. So when deciding to purchase a vehicle for an inexperienced driver, safety should be the primary concern.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) is an organization that focuses on highway safety and the prevention of vehicle accidents. They’ve done the research and have suggested some important considerations when purchasing a vehicle for a teen driver.

Leave the Horsepower on the Sales Lot

Speed forces any driver to make decisions in shorter time-frames. In addition, any mistakes that include collisions would be magnified by additional power. Keep it simple. Keep it safe.

Bigger is Better

Many times parents will look to purchase a small vehicle for teen drivers. It seems practical, low fuel and easier to park and handle. Nope. Go big and heavy. Your teen will be better protected and drive more safely due to the vehicle’s size.

High NHTSA Safety Ratings

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is a government agency that regulates the safety of passenger vehicles. They test cars and trucks sold in the US for safety. You want your teen driver in something that rates either 4 or 5 stars. By the way, the safest vehicles rated by NHTSA doesn’t include any compact vehicles. (Bigger is Better. Where did have we heard that before?)

Vehicle Safety Features for Teen Drivers

Not all vehicles contain the same set of features. Premium trim packages will come with more features—both safety and convenience—but also with a higher price tag whether it’s new or used. With safety as a primary concern for teen drivers, we’ve listed the features that provide the biggest safety benefits. You may not be able to find all the features in one vehicle, but the more the better—and safer:

Electronic Stability Control (ESC)

This is a MUST-HAVE. Don’t purchase a vehicle for your teen driver without this feature. ESC has been required in all new vehicles since 2012.

"ESC is the most important safety feature most people have never heard of. It's up there with seat belts and airbags in its life-saving benefits," says Russ Rader, senior vice president at the IIHS


This seems obvious. Yet, if you’re looking at used vehicles as an option, newer vehicles will have more airbags than older models. Since 2003, almost every vehicle sold in the US has at least 2 airbags in the front. At a minimum, try to find a vehicle with side-curtain airbags in the front. Remember, airbags work to minimize injury in the event of an accident.

Anti-lock Braking Systems (ABS)

ABS prevents skids in when using the brakes. This allows the user to maintain control of the vehicle. Prior to ABS, drivers were taught to pump the brakes in an emergency braking situation. Few people remembered that important driving rule in the panic of real-life. ABS performs the pumping for the driver while they press the brake. Any vehicle with ESC will have ABS.

Back-up Cameras

Reversing presents challenges for the most experienced drivers. The biggest risk when reversing is actually running someone or something over. The bigger the vehicle, the bigger the blind spot behind the vehicle. All cars manufactured for the US were required to have back up cameras. These can be added to any vehicle for a minimal cost.

360-Degree Cameras

This can be difficult to find as an OEM product, but can be added as an aftermarket accessory. This can be a great safety feature if your new driver will be heading off to college. Parking on campuses tends to be in tight spaces and may require parallel parking skills.

Driver Assist Technology

Driver assist technology is a new category of safety feature found in the newest vehicles. Driver assist technology actually represents the beginning phases of autonomous driving. These technologies essentially help drive the vehicle, keeping the vehicle within lanes, monitoring blind spots and automatic braking to prevent collisions. You’ll have to purchase a new vehicle as this technology has been just recently introduced. Nissan will make Driver Assist Technology standard in all vehicles starting in 2020.

LED Tail Lights

LED lights have become a hot trend for vehicles. This will be one trend that provides more than just aesthetic benefits. LED lights shine brighter and make your teen driver more visible in low-visibility conditions such as inclement weather and after dark.

Certain vehicle safety features will reduce your automobile insurance rates.

Insurance Rates, What Features Will Reduce Premiums?

Safety will be its own reward for most of the features mentioned above.

According to research by Nationwide insurance, only 4 features consistently earned a discount; air bags, anti-lock brakes, electronic stability control and adaptive cruise control.

Due to the lack of data related to driver assist technology, insurers have yet to calculate the efficacy of these features. It would be a safe bet that sometime in the near future, these technologies will lead to discounts.

The Safest Used Cars for Teen Drivers You Can Purchase Under $15k

So what vehicles come with the features that will make your teen driver safer?

Check out our list of vehicles recommended by the NHTSA for teen drivers.