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Safe Cars for Short Daughter?

My 16 year old is 4'10 and just passed her drivers test. I'm looking for recommendations for a car with an emphasis on safety because she sits about half a foot from the steering wheel! Any thoughts on what might fit a $10,000 - $15,000 budget. Frills are not necessary! Thanks!

Lynn C

A friend who is equally vertically challenged just bought a used Honda Fit and finds that it “fits” her just fine. She had a Beetle before which worked as well.

Honda Civic. Might also want to consider a cushion to raise her up for the purpose of visibility.

How a car fits is very person-specific, she’ll need to try out a number of them to see what works for her. I used this site’s safety ratings to help narrow down choices when we were looking for a car for my son:

Large Cars Are Safer In A Collision. Many Large Cars Have Seats With A Vertical Adjustment Feature. My Bonneville has this feature and it would get a small driver up where they can see and also up so that an airbag would be aimed at the driver properly and that goes for the side-curtain airbags, too. Be sure you have those.

My two kids (23 yr. old son and 16 yr. old daughter) always drive larger cars and I'd never put them in a small one and they know better not to buy one. I see that car accident death tolls in my state are climbing with the sales of more and more small cars. People sacrifice safety to save on gas money.

I just read an article in this morning's paper and it said although they (little high MPG cars) are being made safer all the time, even David Zuby, the Chief Reserch Officer at The Insurance Institute For Highway Safety said that, "Despite advances, small, lightweight cars simply don't protect their occupants as well as bigger, heavier ones . . . The laws of physics are in affect for cars."

Don't trust crash ratings alone. The crash ratings don't tell the whole story. The ratings simulate a crash with a similar size vehicle, but there are many large cars, SUVs and trucks out on the roads. I'd go with a larger car, something in a Ford Fusion size or larger. In a collison, large vehicles almost always win. Put the odds on your daughter's side.

I've had several "accidents" over the years, none my fault (I was legally stopped and another was a driver running a red light at a blind intersection) and have had cars totalled. Because we drive larger cars there were no injuries to people in our cars, but there were in smaller cars that caused the accident.

Get a larger car. Get front and side-curtain airbags. You may want ABS brakes. You can thank me later,


Very true about larger cars. The site I noted takes size into account, that’s one reason I like it.

Six inches from the steering wheel isn’t safe, partly because it’s way too close if the airbag goes off and partly because her arms are in the wrong position for an emergency steering maneuver.

I’d suggest looking for a car with a telescoping steering wheel or with adjustable brake and gas pedals (although those aren’t very common). An alternative is to get pedal extenders.

In addition, she should go out of her way to make sure the seatbelt is snug. Every inch of play could make a big difference in her case.

I’m short too but not that short. I would seriously consider disconnecting the air bag. I wish there was some way to turn them down but for a short person with the power that they have, it can be a killer.

Nissan Versa should fit the bill.

As for getting a large car, what good is that car going to be if she can’t see out of the car, and judge where the body is at since its so humungous?

Get her a smaller car so that she can be a safer driver.

Also, just about every airbag system created in the recent past has a sensor in the seats that determines the driver’s weight, and uses that information to decrease the airbag force in the event of a crash. Car manufacturers hate getting sued for wrongful death, you know.


Any car will probably be fine for her. But as CSA said, bigger is safer. The lowest medical payout is always a medium to large SUV according to HLDI, who reports the accident payouts for all insured vehicles in the US. For 2006-2008 models, the safest vehicles are the 4WD Buick Enclave, 4WD Chevy Suburban 1500, 4WD GMC Yukon XL (same truck as Suburban) and the 4WD Chevy Avalanche. All have ratings under 50. A rating of 100 is average for all vehicles. A rating of 50 means that the medical payout is 50% the level of all vehicles.