IIHS Study: Bigger Cars are Still Safer for Teen Drivers (or New Drivers)

Most teens--or even new drivers--often start their adventure in driving in small, used vehicles. Aside from getting most of them dirt cheap, it wouldn't be too much of a waste in case their car gets smashed somewhere while performing their 36th attempt in parallel parking.

Common sense will tell everyone that taking the "small, used car route" is the best thing to do, and if you're a practical person, you'll probably agree with this setting, right? Well, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Highway Loss Data Institute (IIHS). In terms of safety, it's a big mistake.

IIHS' recent studies regarding front-to-front crash tests of used small and mini cars when they collided with larger used vehicles (including those with excellent safety ratings), revealed that consumers who opted for the smaller vehicles are choosing a lower level of protection even if they purchased a TOP SAFETY PICK winner.

How the study was conducted

Their study involved two demonstrations: a used 2016 Kia Sorento (midsized SUV) vs a 2018 Kia Forte (small car) for the first test and a used 2015 Toyota Avalon (large car) vs a 2018 Toyota Yaris iA (mini car) for the second test. The results revealed that forces on the driver dummies in the smaller vehicles were "much greater than those in the larger vehicles."

According to the report, the Forte, which weighed 928 pounds less than the Sorento, and the Yaris iA, which weighed 1,033 pounds less than the Avalon, did poorly compared to the larger vehicle in the car-to-barrier tests. It also showed that right leg injuries, and neck and chest injuries were more likely to occur in both vehicles, should they get in a real-world crash of the same severity used in their demonstration.

What's more, the degree of severity that occurs on front and rear tests were "determined in part" on the vehicle's weight than its size.

"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," says Jessica Cicchino, IIHS vice president for research. "Teen drivers are at greater risk, due to immaturity and inexperience behind the wheel."

"Bigger vehicles provide greater protection," Cicchino says. "If you're riding in one of the smallest vehicles on the road, you'll be at a disadvantage in a crash with almost any other vehicle around you."

Top Recommendations

So now that bigger cars are still best for teenagers, what are the top recommendations of IIHS for teen drivers / new drivers? They include the following:


  • Volkswagen Passat 2013 and newer; built after October 2012

  • Volvo S60 2011 and newer

  • Subaru Legacy 2013 and newer; built after October 2012

  • Honda Accord coupe 2013 and newer

  • Volkswagen Jetta 2015 and newer

  • Mazda 6 2014 and newer

  • Honda Accord sedan 2013 and newer

  • Subaru Outback 2013 and newer; built after August 2012

  • Toyota Prius v 2015 and newer

  • Volvo V60 2015 and newer

  • Audi A3 2015 and newer

  • BMW 2 series coupe 2015 and newer


  • Volvo S80 2007 and newer

  • Toyota Avalon 2015 and newer


  • Mazda CX-5 2014 and newer; built after October 2013

  • Nissan Rogue 2014 and newer

  • Subaru Forester 2014 and newer

  • Honda CR-V 2015 and newer

  • Ford Escape 2017 and newer

  • Toyota RAV4 2015 and newer; built after November 2014

  • Hyundai Tucson 2016 and newer

  • Mazda CX-3 2016 and newer

  • Kia Sportage 2017 and newer


  • Volvo XC90 2005 and newer

  • Volvo XC60 2013 and newer

  • Kia Sorento 2016 and newer

  • Nissan Murano 2015 and newer

  • Hyundai Santa Fe Sport 2017 and newer

  • Hyundai Santa Fe 2017 and newer; built after March 2016


  • Honda Odyssey 2014 and newer

  • Kia Sedona 2015 and newer

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