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Depending on where you live, having access to a car may be more a necessity than a luxury for your teen. But many beginners are driving cars that don't provide great protection in crashes.

A national survey by Liberty Mutual and SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions) in 2008 found that about 60 percent of teens drive cars that are at least seven years old, and 27 percent of those are 12 or more years old. According to Dave Melton, director of Transportation Technical Consulting Services for Liberty Mutual, this is worrisome news: "Newer cars provide more features to help drivers avoid collisions and reduce injuries."

Similarly, an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety survey of the parents of newly licensed 16- and 17-year-olds in Minnesota, North Carolina and Rhode Island, showed that although parents cited safety and reliability as factors in selecting their teenagers' vehicles, many weren't aware of important features. When asked about safety features they insist on, they most often mentioned a frontal airbag for the driver or passenger or antilock brakes, but few cited side airbags or electronic stability control. And fewer than 10 percent mentioned a vehicle's size as a factor.

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