Sports utility vehicles or SUVs are very popular because of their large size and rugged appearance. The top SUVs on the market include vehicles from a variety of manufacturers such as Honda, Ford, and BMW. SUVs come in different sizes but all are bigger than a typical sedan. The top SUVs are safe vehicles that stand up well against crash tests. They may not be the most fuel efficient, but automakers are working on this aspect, and they are better than they used to be.

 

Kids change many aspects of life, including automotive matters. Babies need car seats, diaper bags, toys, and snacks in the car. The two-door coupe days are gone, fun while they lasted.

Needs change as kids grow, so kid-friendly vehicles must fit three categories: vehicles for small kids, for school-age kids, and for teenaged drivers.

Parents probably should not take kids with them to check out all dealership selections, but should take them to see the final selection. Before completing the deal, they want to be sure everyone fits comfortably in the new vehicle with easy access to whatever may be needed.

Small Kids

With infants or kids small enough to need child restraints, car shoppers look for safety, easy access, and cargo capacity.

Safety starts with the child car seat. What makes a car seat correct is ease of secure installation. For the baby’s first two years, use a rear-facing or convertible car seat. The vehicle backseat needs to accommodate a seat in the rear-facing position.

As for access, the user should be able to install and remove the car seat and passenger without straining. Wide door openings and seat heights that do not demand lots of lifting or bending are best for this purpose.

School-Age Kids

School-age kids bring lots of gear with them in the vehicle, so they need plenty of usable and versatile cargo space. Do the rear seats fold down? For extra-lengthy items, does the front passenger seat also fold down?

If you’re considering a seven-passenger vehicle with third-row seating, check whether the third seat must be removed completely when not needed or, better, whether it simply can fold down out of the way. Two sport-utility vehicles (SUVs) with flat-folding seats are the Toyota Highlander and the Chevrolet Traverse. Cargo areas at waist height and trunks without large lips to lift over are usually easiest to load and unload.

Amenities

Life in the back seat can be boring with not much to do on long trips. These days, passengers can have entertainment from a virtually mobile theater. Look for cup holders in the backseats, especially those that accommodate juice boxes, and seat storage pockets, which can keep toys and books in easy reach without being loose, potentially dangerous projectiles in a crash. Such kid-friendly features are available in the Toyota Sienna with cup holders seemingly everywhere.

For older kids, 12-volt power ports are good for games and digital versatile disc players to preoccupy them and perhaps prevent outbursts and quarrels during long drives. Good sound systems help pass the time as music can calm kids and book narratives can hold their attention for hours. Safety is most important, but amenities make travel enjoyable. The Dodge Durango Uconnect 8.4-inch infotainment system is one of the best, easy to use and with Wi-Fi to keep the kids occupied.

View from the Interior

If kids can’t look out the window, boredom and bickering often ensue, and kids who can’t see out often suffer from motion sickness. Parents should be sure their kids try out the backseat view before purchasing the vehicle. When kids using boosters eventually outgrow them and sit directly on the car seats, their vision levels are lower for a while than they were on the boosters. Minivan windows are low in relation to seat height and give kids a better view of the outside. On this point the big windows of the Honda Pilot offer much better visibility than do most other modern SUVs.

As for when kids should move from the back to the front seats, most 12-year-olds and early teens should remain in the rear, where they are more likely to stay safe than they would be up front in accidents. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) advises that kids in the back instead of the front have much less risk of injury. Stressing that kids stay in the back as long as possible, the IIHS also urges use of their booster seats for safety as long as possible.

Teenagers

Safety for teenagers is not about them as just passengers but as new drivers as well. They tend to be impulsive and to exercise dubious judgment; unused seat belts and drunk or distracted driving are present in many teenaged driver fatalities. The crash rate for drivers 16 and 17 years old is almost nine times higher than for middle-aged drivers.

The American Automobile Association (AAA) recommends teenagers’ cars be not too fast, too slow, too big, or too small, not what the kids would consider as the coolest cars but cars in which they can live long enough to learn caution from experience as drivers.

“Not too fast” means that the car should accelerate from a stop to 60 miles per hour in no less than eight nor more than eleven seconds. There’s no need for tremendous power for teenaged drivers. It simply asks for trouble. “Not too slow” means a car that merges into traffic or passes safely and does not lumber along taking too much time for safety.

“Not too big” refers to not only overall size but also to how many passengers vehicles can carry. Large SUVs and pickup trucks are not for inexperienced drivers because they may be top-heavy, difficult to control, and ready to roll over.

Large SUVs and minivans encourage teens to carry lots of passengers. IIHS statistics show new drivers at greater risks for fatal crashes when driving with three or more passengers than when driving alone. Graduated licensing has reduced the number of passengers new drivers may carry in a car legally, but teens are still safer in smaller-capacity vehicles with fewer seats.

One advantage to large size and mass is that in a collision passengers in the smaller vehicle are at greater risk of injury, so “not too small” means no sports cars because speed and small size make them risky in crashes.

Electronic Stability

The AAA also recommends electronic stability control, especially on SUVs, to apply the brakes selectively to the appropriate wheel(s) when the vehicle slides out of control to keep it on course in the direction steered. Electronic stability control can prevent accidents in all weather conditions and in sudden swerves necessary to avoid collisions. It can stop SUVs from getting into rollover situations. Studies have found that it halves the risk of a fatal single-vehicle crash.

Electronic stability control is now mandatory on cars, trucks, minivans, and SUVs manufactured since 2012. Electronic stability control may be the best automotive lifesaver since seatbelts.

Many parents pass along their old cars to their teens when they buy new cars for themselves, but for safety, the kids should drive the newer while their parents continue to use the older models. Safety would say give the kids the new cars. In that case, of course, there would be an expensive impact on family insurance rates as a new driver costs more to insure in a new rather than an old car.

Along with affordability and dependability, the vehicle must have safety features and be nimble and strong to avoid and withstand accidents.

Driving Contracts

Another way to encourage safety with teenaged drivers is by agreements or contracts with their parents providing consequences for not abiding by its terms, which may cover number of passengers, driving and drinking, and use of safety belts, cell phones, and stereos. Violation of any provision may have consequences like suspension or revocation of driving privileges. Provisions of the agreement and consequences of violations are up to the wisdom and imagination of the parents and the teens. And along with the type of vehicle and other prophylactic measures like driver contracts, parents must serve as driving role models. How they drive always influences how their kids drive.