July 16, 2014 at 1:00 am

IIHS unveils 'recommended' used car lists for teen drivers

Chrysler Town and Country (Chrysler)

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety on Wednesday is unveiling its first-ever list of recommended used vehicles for teen drivers, the group most at risk for serious injuries in auto crashes.

The list includes more than 50 cars, SUVs and minivans with low horsepower and safety features like side air bags and anti-rollover technology. Among them are cars like the Chrysler Town & Country, Ford Taurus, Ford Edge, GMC Terrain, Chevrolet Malibu, Toyota Camry, Toyota Sienna, Chevrolet Traverse, Honda Accord, Audi A4, Hyundai Sonata, Toyota Prius, Chrysler 200, Buick LaCrosse and Subaru Outback. (The full list is at www.iihs.org.)

The recommendations cover various model years and certain trim levels. No vehicle was built before the 2005 model year.

IIHS, the industry-funded group that prods automakers to build safer cars, has for years offered recommendations on new vehicles called “Top Safety Picks.”

“A teenager’s first car is more than just a financial decision,” says IIHS President Adrian Lund. “These lists of recommended used vehicles can help consumers factor in safety, in addition to affordability.”

IIHS said the new list was prompted by parents’ buying habits. IIHS noted that in a national phone survey of parents of teen drivers, 83 percent of those who bought a vehicle for their teenagers said they bought it used.

More than half were from the 2006 model year or earlier. IIHS calls that a problem because older vehicles are much less likely to have safety features such as electronic stability control and side air bags. The other issue is that parents don’t spend that much on a teen’s vehicle: The average price in the survey was about $9,800, while the median was just $5,300. Cheaper used vehicles often have fewer safety features.

The price of recommended cars ranges from $4,000 to $20,000.

IIHS offers key recommendations: Young drivers should stay away from high horsepower. They should drive bigger, heavier vehicles that protect better in a crash. And vehicles must have electronic stability control: “This feature, which helps a driver maintain control of the vehicle on curves and slippery roads, reduces risk on a level comparable to safety belts,” the group said. IIHS also says vehicles should have the best safety ratings possible.

“Unfortunately, it’s very difficult to get a safe vehicle for a teenager at the prices most people are paying,” says Anne McCartt, IIHS senior vice president for research. “Our advice to parents would be to remember the risks teens take and consider paying a little more.”

High-horsepower vehicles were left off the list, but many of the recommended models have high-horsepower versions that should be avoided.

Crashes are the leading cause of death for those 14-18 years old in the United States. In 2011, 942 teens died in crashes, NHTSA said; more than half were not wearing seat belts.

NHTSA said speeding was a factor in 35 percent of fatal crashes involving teen drivers, while 12 percent of teen drivers involved in fatal crashes were distracted at the time.

In 2011, 505 people died in crashes in which drivers between 14 and 18 years old had alcohol in their systems, despite the fact that all states have zero-tolerance laws for drinking and driving under age 21.