The Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS) says an older, larger used vehicle is often a safer choice for teenage drivers than a newer small vehicle that costs the same.
IIHS conducted a pair of front-to-front crash tests to demonstrate what happens to small cars and minicars — even new ones with top safety ratings — when they collide with larger used vehicles from the same manufacturer.
In each test, the vehicles traveled toward each other at 40 mph, with 50 percent of the smaller vehicle’s width overlapping the larger vehicle.
In the first of the two demonstration tests, a used 2016 Kia Sorento, a midsize SUV, and a 2018 Kia Forte, a small car, collided with each other. In the second test, a used 2015 Toyota Avalon, a large car, was paired with a 2018 Toyota Yaris iA, a minicar. Both the Sorento and the Avalon are in the IIHS’s Best Choices for teens list. The Forte and the Yaris iA have good ratings in the five IIHS tests relevant to driver protection, and the Forte is a 2018 Top Safety Pick+ winner.
Forces on the driver dummies in the smaller vehicles were much greater than those in the larger vehicles. Measurements indicated a high likelihood of head injuries for the driver of both the Yaris iA and the Forte in a real-world crash of the same severity. Right leg injuries would be likely in the Forte and possible in the Yaris iA. Neck and chest injuries would also be possible for drivers of both vehicles, and left leg injuries would be possible in the Forte.
“We know safety is just one of the factors people consider when choosing a vehicle, but we hope parents will give it extra consideration when purchasing a vehicle for a teenager,” said Jessica Cicchino, IIHS Vice President for Research. “Teen drivers are at greater risk, due to immaturity and inexperience behind the wheel.”
In its regular vehicle ratings program, IIHS evaluates passenger vehicles of all sizes, and even minicars are eligible for the Top Safety Pick and Top Safety Pick+ awards. IIHS says that’s a nod to the reality of the marketplace: some consumers want small vehicles, and including them in the testing program encourages manufacturers to make those vehicles as safe as possible.
But, according to IIHS, vehicles can’t be compared across size and weight classes because the severity of the front and rear tests is determined in part by the vehicle’s own weight. Consumers who opt for smaller vehicles are choosing a lower level of protection even if they purchase a Top Safety Pick winner.
The IIHS’s list of recommended vehicles for teens this year includes 53 Best Choices, which start under $20,000, and 62 Good Choices, which start under $10,000. All the models on both lists are midsize cars or larger.