Having a new driver in the house is a concern for most parents. And it should be, as driving accidents are the number one cause of death in 15 to 20 year-olds, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). A staggering 35% of teen deaths are caused by driving accidents in the United States. The NHTSA further asserts that teens are involved in three times more deadly crashes than any other age group of drivers

The NHTSA points to teens’ inexperience and immaturity that lead to poor driving choices. Those poor choices can result in an accident, and those accidents take many young people’s lives. Teens are more likely to ignore safety features such as seatbelts, they are more likely to speed, and they are more likely to engage in distracted driving. Cell phones, mp3s, and rowdy teenage passengers are more prevalent with teens and more likely to distract new drivers. Further factors that affect all drivers, such as driving under the influence, driving at night, and driving while drowsy, affect teen crash rates as well.

While parents and the community at large need to address the factors that result in teen crashes, the only cure for inexperience is to continue driving. One aspect that parents can control while their teen learns the ins and outs of driving is to make sure their new driver is in a car that is as safe as possible, just in case the worst-case scenario of an accident does occur. Pairing that safe car with one that is fuel-efficient, kind to the environment, and in an affordable price range is just icing on the cake.

Best Cars for New Drivers under $15,000

These cars are budget friendly as well as highly rated in crash testing. Price ranges are based on the basic models of most vehicles; this is also beneficial because those vehicles are less likely to have all of the electronic screens and mp3 attachments that will just serve to further distract new drivers.

Chevrolet Sonic

The Sonic sedan starts with a manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) of $13,865; the Sonic hatchback starts at $14,765. Both have received excellent safety ratings from independent testers. The Sonic received a Top Safety pick for 2012 award from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). The model received the highest marks in all four tests conducted by the institute: front, side, rollover, and rear crash testing.

The Chevy Sonic also performed well on crash testing conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Both the sedan model and hatchback model received an overall ranking of five out of five stars. The only test the model did not score perfectly on was the rollover test. Scoring four out of five stars, testers determined the model has a 12.6% chance of rolling over during evasive driving. With its 1.8L, 4-cylinder engine getting 25/35 MPG, it is a safe vehicle that is easy on the wallet and the environment.

Best Cars for New Drivers between $15,000 and $18,000

The pricing of these vehicles are still based on basic models; some vehicles will have more advanced safety features than lesser-priced vehicles.

Honda Civic

The four-door Honda Civic received five out of five stars overall from the NHTSA. All crash testing was perfect, except for the rollover test. Earning four out of five stars, the vehicle was assessed to have a 10.9% chance of rollover. An additional safety feature recommended by the NHTSA that is found on the Civic is electronic stability control. The Civic also received a Top Safety Pick award from the IIHS. Starting at $15,605, the Civic has an impressive 28/39 MPG fuel efficiency. A hybrid Civic is available for about $10,000 more that gets good gas mileage.

Toyota Corolla

Toyota’s mainstay sedan is one of the best-selling cars in the United States. The Corolla starts out at an affordable $16,130, and it is an IIHS Top Safety Pick for 2012. It received four out of five stars for front and rollover testing from the NHTSA; side crash testing has not been completed. Fuel efficiency is rated as a decent 27/34 MPG.

Ford Focus

One of Ford’s subcompact vehicles, the Focus starts at $16,500. It received an IIHS Top Safety Pick award and four out of five stars overall from the NHTSA. The Focus gets an impressive 26 MPG for city driving and 36 MPG on the highway. Ford is releasing an electric Focus in 2012.

Best Cars for New Drivers over $18,000

Higher priced vehicles start to have some impressive technology features that improve safety and gas mileage. While hybrids and alternative fuel vehicles are found in the higher price ranges, they have a fuel-efficiency factor that blows other cars’ miles per gallon away.

Subaru Impreza

Subaru is well-known for their top safety ratings for their crossover and SUV, and now their racing model has earned high safety picks as well. The four-door 2012 Impreza starts at $17,495 and burns fuel at a very affordable 27/36 MPG with the five-speed manual transmission option.

As a recipient of the IIHS’s Top Safety Pick for 2012, the 2012 Impreza has yet to be rated by the NHTSA. All Subaru models come with standard all-wheel-drive, increasing control in less than desirable driving conditions.

Toyota Prius

The Prius has been Toyota’s gift to the environment with a history of high fuel efficiency in a mid-sized vehicle. In its third generation, the basic Prius starts at $24,000. While a bit pricier that other non-hybrid options, the Prius more than makes up for it in fuel economy, with a whopping 51 MPG in the city (48 on the highway).

The Prius also has a high safety rating that makes it a decent buy. It was a Top Safety Pick for 2012 from the IIHS, and it received a five out of five star overall rating from the NHTSA. Toyota is also planning to release the subcompact Prius C that is less expensive and gets better fuel mileage, in 2012. Overall, the Prius will be a contender in the industry for years to come.