No, The IIHS Isn't Recommending 'Monster Trucks' for Teen Drivers

The IIHS published data showing that teen drivers in small cars face a higher risk of dying in crashes. The data is being wildly misinterpreted by some.

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Photo: Andrew Collins

When shopping for a car for a teen driver, safety is usually the top concern for parents, and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety is a solid resource. Unfortunately, some outlets think that publishing crash statistics for small cars is the IIHS’s way of saying parents should buy their kids an Escalade. Here’s why that’s a lousy conclusion.

In August, the IIHS published a report that highlighted the dangers of teens driving smaller, older cars.

More than a quarter of teen drivers killed in crashes during 2013-17 were driving micro, mini or small cars, and nearly two-thirds were driving 6-15-year-old vehicles, indicating almost no change compared with 2008-12. In both periods, fatally injured adults crashed in newer, larger vehicles much more often than teens.

Data on vehicle miles traveled from the 2017 National Household Travel Survey also suggest teens tend to drive older cars than adults, though the survey doesn’t include information about vehicle size. Teens logged more than half of their miles in vehicles more than 11 years old, compared with less than 30 percent for adults, the survey found.

“It’s understandable that parents don’t want to shell out big bucks for their teen’s first car, and they probably don’t realize how much safer a newer, larger vehicle is,” says IIHS Research Scientist Rebecca Weast, lead author of the paper. “Small vehicles don’t protect as well in a crash, and older vehicles are less likely to be equipped with essential safety equipment.”


Naturally, anyone with a basic understanding of physics or a modicum of common sense would understand this. The reality is, when two objects collide, the object with more mass wins. To give parents some guidelines, IIHS and Consumer Reports teamed up and put together a list of 65 new and used cars (the latter, all available under $20,000) considered “safe” based on crash test results and available safety equipment.

If you scroll the list, you’ll note that IIHS and CR actually stick with reasonably-sized suggestions. The biggest vehicles you’ll find on the list are large sedans (like the Toyota Avalon), midsize SUVs (like the Toyota Highlander), or minivans (like the surprisingly large Honda Odyssey).


But somehow, StreetsBlogUSA interpreted this as the IIHS encouraging parents to buy their teens “Megacars.” The photo accompanying StreetsBlog’s article says it all: Apparently, they’re under the impression that most parents are oligarchs, paying six figures to put their kids in a Mercedes G-Wagen.

In response to IIHS data that shows higher fatality rates among teen drivers in small cars, StreetsBlogUSA is under the impression that following the advice to buy a safe car for your new driver will naturally lead to the deaths of pedestrians and cyclists.

“[Small] cars, though, are actually among the safest on the road … for people who walk and roll. Studies have long shown that megacars are two to three times more likely than a sedan to kill a walker in the event of a crash, and today’s hulking SUVs are a staggering eight times more likely to kill a child who isn’t behind the wheel.”

First of all, “Megacar” is not really a category of car. Second, the large SUVs and pickup trucks StreetsBlog is referring to never even show up on the IIHS recommended list.

StreetsBlog indicates that the IIHS has “backtracked” the recommendation for parents to choose bigger cars, but in their eyes, IIHS didn’t go far enough:

“Young hesitated, though, to withdraw the Institute’s recommendation outright, emphasizing that the negative effects of putting kids in monster trucks could be offset by other policies….”


At no point in either the IIHS report nor the Consumer Reports post was a “Monster Truck” ever recommended. In fact, not one pickup truck is on the list. The largest vehicle is a minivan.

America clearly has a problem with pedestrians and cyclists getting killed on our roadways. And much of it has to do with the proliferation of large SUVs and trucks. There’s a way we can reduce teen driver fatalities and pedestrian deaths: better driver training. However, just because a parent chooses a safer vehicle for their teen’s first car, doesn’t mean they’re indifferent about the safety of people around them. We don’t have to make this another us-versus-them fight.