BEYOND AIRBAGS: Best First CARS and Safety Features for Teens
The time has come. Your teen has passed her driving test, and now pines for her own vehicle. While tech features and eye-catching elegance may be on her wish list, safety over style is the name of the game for parents purchasing their teen’s first car.
Thanks to technology, your competing priorities are more aligned than you think. The best first cars for new drives have the best combination of high safety ratings, overall quality and reliablity.
Used cars will be more affordable and known for reliablity, but new cars will have the latest and greatest safety features. Here’s our list of top safety features along with our votes for the best first cars (new and used) to keep your teen drivers safe.
Automatic braking is typically part of a forward collision warning system that uses radar or other sensors to detect when a crash is about to occur. Most of these systems will initially alert the driver of the danger so the driver can brake or steer to avoid an accident. In cases where the driver doesn’t react quickly enough, the AEB system will then function as its name implies and apply the brakes itself.
Used: 2017 Toyota Yaris iA – $15,950
Twenty major automakers reached an agreement with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to put automatic braking into all their light-duty vehicles by 2022. But progress now is running well ahead of that deadline.
Toyota leads in the affordability category for this feature in its 2017 Toyota Yaris iA, which has an active safety system at the standard level. Included in this active safety system is dynamic stability control, a traction control system, anti-lock brakes, electronic brake-force distribution, brake assist and a brake over-ride system. In short, the full package of this safety feature at a reasonable price.
New: 2019 Volkswagen Jetta SE – $22,155 average MSRP
The SE Model:
- forward collision warning
- automatic emergency braking
- blind spot monitoring
- rear cross-traffic alert
Bump up to the SEL model for lane departure warning and lane keep assist.
See our full review: NEED A PREMIUM SEDAN ON A TIGHT BUDGET? THE 2019 VOLKSWAGEN JETTA MIGHT BE THE TICKET
Similar to the automatic braking systems, automakers are offering more and more mainstream cars with forward collision warning systems (FCW) which alert your teen when they are coming up on another vehicle too quickly, and allow them opportunity to brake or switch lanes.
Used: 2016 Nissan Altima – $23,335 average price
While many newer model cars include the FCW feature, the 2016 Nissan Altima extends the reach of typical cars with its “predictive” technology. With this innovation, front-facing sensors not only can monitor the speed and distance of the vehicle right ahead of the Altima, but also the vehicle directly ahead of that one as well. Then, if either of those vehicles begins to slow or stop, the system can deploy warnings and automatic braking to help avoid an impact. A little on the pricier end for a first car, but for teens who will be tasked with a lot of city and highway driving, the Altima is worth considering.
Blind spot monitoring:
“Check your blind spot!” Even the most cautious driver has failed to follow the crucial driving rule from time to time. Blind spot monitors generally warn the driver either audibly or visually, should the driver try to veer into an occupied lane. Having a car with blind spot detection could help your teen avoid a dangerous accident, or at least an expensive body shop bill.
Used: 2016 Honda Fit EX – $17,800 average price
If you decide that blind spot detection is a must-have, but you are on a budget, the 2016 Honda Fit EX is a viable option. But don’t let the low price fool you. This subcompact car has top-notch safety ratings and tech. As the name implies, the Fit is exceptionally spacious for its class.
New: 2019 Hyundai Elantra – $20,500 MSRP
Safety features include:
- Forward collision-avoidance Assist
- Lane keep assist
- Driver attention alert
- Safe exit assist
- Blind-spot collision warning
Lane Departure Warning
Lane Departure Warning (LDW) helps your teen stay safe on the highway by keeping the vehicle in lane while at speed. LDW technology uses cameras (typically mounted behind the windshield) to read the lines ahead.
LDW systems notify the driver that they’re crossing over the line via an audible signal or vibration, prompting the driver to take action. Particularly helpful when your teen is learning to navigate windy roads in unfamiliar places, or driving later at night, when they may be at risk for nodding off.
Used: 2016 Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid – $18,700 average price
A solid choice for the enviro-conscious teen, the Chevy Malibu Hybrid is one of the more affordable hybrid options. The Malibu rates well for projected reliability and is available with a long list of advanced safety features, including the LDW feature, and was also named the 2016 Best Midsize Car for Families by U.S. News and World Report.
New: 2019 Mazda 3 Select- $22,600 MSRP
Safety features include:
- Driver attention alert
- Blind spot monitoring with rear cross traffic alert15
- Lane departure warning
- Lane-keep assist
- Adaptive cruise control with stop & go
- Automatic high beam headlights
Parking Sensors and Rear Cameras
A back up (parking) sensor will make a beeping noise inside the vehicle as it gets closer to an object while backing up, giving the driver an idea of how close they are to avoid backing into another car or obstacle. A back up (rear) camera is a video feed from behind your vehicle that shows the driver a feed on the video console.
Used: 2016 Ford Fusion – $16,500 average price
Whether you want a sporty family car with Euro-sharp looks, or just a practical and affordable way to haul around five people, the 2016 Ford Fusion is a hard car to beat. athletic handling and strong available engines give it a performance edge over rivals, and its minimalist infotainment system means fewer distractions for your teen driver while they are on the road.
Real World Safety
Keep in mind that none of these features are designed to substitute for cautious driving or replace good driving habits. But as you wave to your teen as they back down the driveway, the added comfort that these tools and technology provide go a long way to giving you comfort during this rite of passage.