Report warns parents about teens driving unsafe cars

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Many teenagers drive smaller,cheaper, cars with little crash protection or safety technology.  Now the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says many cars aren't safe, and it's compiling its own list of recommended used cars for teen drivers.

It's a rite of passage for millions of teenagers every year. First the permit, the license, then the new wheels. But research suggests that teenagers are far too often driving cars that simply aren't safe enough.

In a new report, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety warns parents they could be sacrificing safety for affordability. The study finds that 28 percent of parents buy small cars that often don't offer good crash protection; more than half of vehicles bought for teens were 2006 or older, meaning they lack the latest safety technology; and even more, two-thirds, of family hand-me-downs were 2006 or older.

So what should parents of teen drivers be looking for?

Experts say bigger and heavier is safer. Stay away from high-horsepower engines. Electronic stability control is critical.

"It compares to seatbelts in terms of the reduction of risk. Teens should not be driving a vehicle without electronic stability control. It's a must," said Anne McCart, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety 

Because teens are already at risk, the Insurance Institute says its worth paying a little more. It recommends two-tiers of affordable vehicles. First, those under $20,000: large cars including something like the Buick Regal, 2011 or later; a midsize could include the Honda Accord sedan; a small SUV like the Hyundai Tucson; minivans like the Toyota Sienna, 2011 and later.

Among those under $10,000: large cars like the Acura RL; misdize cars like the Mazda 6; small SUVs like the Ford Escape and minivans including the Kia Sedona.

Another big challenge: making sure the car you're buying for your teen has not been involved in a major safety recall.

Amber Rose was the very first death associated with the Chevy Cobalt and the subsequent ignition switch recall. Her airbags failed to deploy.

"I miss her. I miss her very very much. There's nothing that I wouldn't give to just have her back, even if it was just for a day," said her mother, Laura Christian.

Check Carfax and the federal registry to make sure any used car you are buying is not been involved in an accident or a recall

"We would urge parents to think about the high crash risk of teen drivers and try to spend a little more," said McCart.

Learn about Indiana's program for teen drivers.