What to consider before your teen gets behind the wheel

thFor parents concerned with safety, it’s one of the toughest decisions to make: What car should your child drive?

This is not a question to take lightly. Vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among teenagers in the U.S., according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. So this goes beyond merely considering whether to pass on the family jalopy.

Here’s what parents should consider before handing over the key fob.

BEFORE PURCHASING A CAR

Consider your child’s maturity: Is he or she responsible enough to drive safely? Has he or she earned the privilege of driving?

Cars aren’t cheap. Decide who will pay for it, including the cost of fuel, insurance, maintenance and any parking fees.

Make sure your child is properly trained. Have him take driver’s education classes at school or find an independent fully accredited and state-licensed driving school.

Children learn what they live, so be sure to lead by example. No doubt your kids will pick up your driving habits, both good and bad. So be sure to set a good example when behind the wheel.

Always wear a seat belt, don’t use your cellphone while driving and, above all, be courteous to other drivers.

WHAT TO BUY

The starter car: A hand-me-down family sedan is the best choice as midsize and full-size sedans have predictable handling in emergency situations, which is helpful for novice drivers.

Consider a car with sufficient, but not overwhelming, engine power, with a zero-to-60 mph time between 8 and 11 seconds. New drivers do not know how to properly use excessive engine power.

What to avoid: At the top of the list are the types of vehicles teens tend to favor: SUVs, pickups and sports cars. Why? SUVs and pickups have a higher center of gravity, which means a higher rollover risk. Also, they don’t handle as well. And while sports cars are more nimble than other vehicles, teens will be tempted to race them.

Does size matter? Yes and no. While a larger car doesn’t steer or brake as well as a smaller one, they tend to fare better in crashes. But a smaller, more nimble model is going to be more manageable for new drivers, and will be better able to avoid accidents in the first place.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR

Safety first: Any car made in this century has a crash-test rating. Two different tests are available for free online. Be sure to check both: the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. On IIHS tests, look for cars with “top pick” or “good” ratings. On NHTSA tests, the best vehicles have four or five stars.

Opt for: Electronic stability control has been commonly available only since 2006, but is essential at keeping the shiny side of the car up and the dirty side down. Also, look for the greatest number of air bags you can afford as well as anti-lock brakes and traction control.

Avoid fancy audio or navigation systems. These distractions have proven to be a key factor in accidents. Also, since new drivers have difficulty judging distance, skip a vehicle with tinted windows.

The bottom line: Buy the safest car you can afford. You don’t want to scrimp on safety.

Source: Water Town Daily Times