10 Best Car Safety Features for Teens

Talia Lee
June 10, 2024

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), teens aged 16 to 19 face a fatal crash rate per mile driven that’s approximately three times higher than drivers aged 20 and above.

In addition to fundamental safety features such as airbags, antilock brakes, traction control, stability control, and a rearview camera, it’s essential to prioritize advanced safety features like forward collision warning when selecting a vehicle.

While the government mandates a minimum of two airbags, many vehicles offer six or more. Having more airbags provides added protection for teens.

When discussing “top safety features for teens,” we’re not referring to safety features specifically tailored for teenage drivers. Instead, our list outlines the essential safety features any car should possess when your teen’s safety is at stake.

Let’s be realistic: For most families, the budget doesn’t allow for purchasing a brand-new car fully equipped with the latest advanced safety technologies for a teen’s first vehicle. Many parents opt to hand down their older vehicles, while others search for used cars that are affordable and in good condition to ensure their teen’s safety without breaking the bank.

Our top safety features list is divided into two sections. The first five features have been available on passenger vehicles since the 1990s, and they are now mandated by the federal government as standard equipment on all new cars. Regardless of whether the vehicle is new or used, these safety features are essential for a teen’s car.

The second half of the list comprises safety features that are not required by federal regulations but are commonly found on newer vehicle models. Parents who have the budget for a new or late-model used car should prioritize obtaining as many of these features as possible to enhance safety.

Regardless of the statistics you reference, the conclusion remains consistent: when considering the mileage driven, no other age group experiences more crash fatalities than teenagers. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) reports that the fatal crash rate per mile driven for teens aged 16 to 19 is approximately three times higher than that for drivers aged 20 and above. Continue reading for our compilation of essential safety features for teenage drivers.

Airbags? Aren’t they standard in every car? Yes, since the 1998 model year, the federal government has mandated that all light passenger vehicles (including cars, pickup trucks, and SUVs) be equipped with airbags. However, even today, as it was in 1998, the law requires only two airbags—one for each side of the front seat. However, most modern vehicles are equipped with at least six airbags. Apart from the front airbags, there are side-impact airbags typically integrated into the outer shell of each front seat, as well as two side-curtain airbags positioned above the doors to safeguard the heads of both front and rear-seat passengers.

So, how many airbags should your teen’s car have? There isn’t a set number that defines a safe level of airbag coverage. Some vehicles, such as the Nissan Sentra, Toyota Camry, and Chevrolet Malibu, boast up to 10 airbags. Generally, more airbags are considered better. At a minimum, your teen’s vehicle should include front and side curtain airbags.

Furthermore, the front airbags should ideally feature “dual-stage” deployment. Sometimes referred to as “Smart” or “Advanced,” these airbags deploy when crash sensors trigger an inflator inside them, resulting in a controlled release of air. Dual-stage systems incorporate two inflators, each with different power settings. For instance, one may deploy at 70% capacity, while the other activates at 30%. In less severe collisions, only the lower-powered inflator is triggered. In more significant impacts, both inflators are activated in rapid succession. Some dual-stage systems are even capable of detecting the presence of a child in the seat and adjusting deployment accordingly.

The three essential components—Antilock brakes, traction control, and stability control—form a cohesive safety framework, mandated for new cars since 2012. Antilock brake systems (ABS) play a crucial role in facilitating shorter stopping distances, ensuring straight-line stops, and preserving steering control.

To put it simply, when brakes lock up, a vehicle tends to skid. This compromises both braking effectiveness and steering capability. Before ABS, drivers would try to prevent lockup and skidding by rapidly pumping the brakes. ABS offers a significant advantage by automatically modulating brake pressure, accomplishing this task more swiftly and effectively than manual pumping. Wheel sensors continuously monitor brake activity, intervening to prevent lockup by alternately engaging and releasing the brakes. With each rapid brake modulation, the vehicle’s speed diminishes.

Furthermore, during brake modulation, the front wheels maintain their rotation. This preserves steering control, enabling drivers to maneuver and potentially evade hazardous situations.

Traction control optimizes traction during vehicle acceleration by leveraging ABS components. It accomplishes this by applying brake pressure to the drive wheel or wheels experiencing a loss of grip, thereby reducing wheel spin. Essentially, the system facilitates controlled, straight-line acceleration.

Stability control capitalizes on ABS capabilities to uphold the vehicle’s intended trajectory. Multiple sensors monitor various vehicle behaviors. For instance, a steering-wheel sensor tracks the driver’s intended direction, while a yaw sensor detects the degree of tilt during turns and any signs of traction loss leading to lateral movement. Upon detecting potential loss of traction and initiating yaw, these sensors prompt the ABS to apply brake pressure to the necessary wheels, thus restoring the vehicle to its intended path.

ABS, traction control, and stability control constitute crucial technologies for preventing crashes. Many vehicles were already equipped with these features before their mandated adoption by the federal government. If your teen ends up with a car manufactured before 2012, ensure it includes ABS, traction control, and stability control.

Commonly referred to as a backup camera, a rearview camera provides a view of the area behind a vehicle when it is in reverse gear. This view is displayed on the center display or infotainment touchscreen, though earlier models may have positioned the image display on a section of the rearview mirror. Rearview cameras aid drivers in detecting pedestrians, cyclists, pets, and obstacles behind them while reversing. In 2008, the federal government implemented a regulation requiring rearview cameras to be included in all new cars sold after May 2014.

Almost every new model offers some version of forward collision warning (FCW) either as a standard feature or as an optional add-on. Frequently, it is coupled with an emergency braking system. This system scans the road ahead using a combination of radar, cameras, and sometimes lasers, to detect when the vehicle is approaching the vehicle in front too rapidly. It then alerts the driver through audible, haptic, or visual warnings, or a combination of these. If automatic emergency braking is also included, the system will automatically apply the brakes if the driver fails to respond promptly to the warning.

Utilizing radar sensors located on the rear bumper or cameras, blind-spot monitoring (BSM) notifies the driver of approaching vehicles from the rear on either side of the car. These approaching vehicles can often go unnoticed in the blind spots along a car’s flanks. Visual alerts, if the vehicle is equipped, are displayed on the outboard rearview mirrors, the A-pillars, or the head-up display.

Rear cross-traffic alert (RCTA) utilizes the identical sensors and cameras employed in blind-spot monitoring (BSM) to observe traffic passing behind your vehicle while reversing. This feature proves beneficial when maneuvering out of a driveway onto a bustling street or exiting a parking spot in a congested lot. Certain systems are advanced to the extent of detecting pedestrians and cyclists. Additionally, some RCTA systems incorporate reverse emergency braking, which automatically halts your vehicle upon detecting approaching cross traffic.

9. Lane-Departure Warning

Lane-departure warning, known as LDW, utilizes a front-mounted camera to monitor your vehicle’s alignment within its lane concerning the center and side lane markings. If your car veers close to or crosses these markings without activating the turn signal, LDW issues an audible and sometimes visual alert. Even a brief distraction lasting just a few seconds can result in a vehicle drifting into another lane.

Lane-keeping assist (LKA) employs a forward-facing camera to aid the driver in staying within the lane boundaries. Upon detecting the vehicle nearing an outer lane marker, LKA utilizes either the ABS or the steering system to gently guide the car back toward the center of the lane. Activation of the appropriate turn signal temporarily disengages LKA until the lane change is successfully executed.

While not present in every vehicle, a head-up display projects information such as the speed limit and navigation directions onto a holographic image near eye level on the windshield. These systems are designed to reduce distractions, encouraging teens to maintain focus on the road. When considering a vehicle, it’s worth checking if a head-up display is available. Alternatively, aftermarket systems are available for approximately $40, and some are equipped to notify young drivers if they exceed the speed limit.

While not a dedicated system or safety feature specifically designed for teens, we have one additional safety recommendation. Telematics systems with emergency notifications have been available since General Motors introduced OnStar in 1996. Since then, other automakers and smartphone manufacturers have developed similar services. These systems offer several benefits, such as notifying first responders in the event of an accident. Additionally, they provide a push-button emergency notification feature for other urgent situations.

Often, these services require a subscription. For example, the OnStar Protection Plan, which includes automatic crash response and crisis assistance, typically costs around $360 annually. This subscription also encompasses services like stolen vehicle assistance and remote vehicle access. Smartphone apps, such as those available on iPhone 14 and later models and various Apple Watch versions, offer crash notifications as well.

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