It's 10 a.m.: Do You Know What Car Your Kid is Driving?


Two years ago, my son started driver’s education at our local high school. Curious about what cars they were using, I discovered it was a Chevy Aveo, which had some of the poorest crash test ratings, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. That got me to thinking, why would schools put the most inexperienced drivers in cars with poor crash test scores?

We took that idea to the Chicago Tribune, and reporter Duaa Eldeib filed Freedom of Information requests with more than 50 Chicagoland schools. What she found was scary:

  • Safety is rarely a top consideration for school districts and Illinois officials when they choose cars for their drivers education programs.
  • The safety ratings of what teens are driving vary widely according to where students live, the Tribune and analysis of the drivers' education cars in nearly 60 districts found.
  • Virtually no state agency tracks the types and safety of the cars in these fleets, and the few regulations on the books are scant, the Tribune found.

We at scored cars used in 2010 and 2011 at the school districts, one by one, based on the crash-test scores they got when they were new. Some districts received high marks, while many others failed outright. In addition, we looked at which brands the schools favored, and evaluated how old the cars are.

It’s a compelling package. Find the main report at, and see the Top and Bottom 10 school districts here at KickingTires.

What Brands Do Chicago-Area Districts Buy?

  • Chevrolet 37.7
  • Ford 29.5
  • Plymouth 8.6
  • Hyundai 4.8
  • Toyota 3.8
  • Dodge 3.3
  • Honda 3.3
  • Saturn 3.3
  • Pontiac 2.0
  • Buick 1.5
  • Chrysler 0.3
  • GMC 0.3
  • Kia 0.3
  • Mazda 0.3
  • VW 0.3
  • Mercury 0.2
  • Scion 0.2

The makeup by manufacturers of drivers’ education cars that were used in 2010 and 2011 is dominated by domestic automakers, which account for roughly 87% of all cars in fleets. Given that those companies have the largest fleet sales and that they’re likely more politically acceptable to voters, it’s really no surprise. But there are some noteworthy items on this list:

  • Plymouth sits in third place, but the brand has not existed in the U.S. since the 2001 model year. All 50-plus Plymouths currently in rotation are in the Chicago Public School fleet.
  • Hyundai is a relative newcomer. As its sales soar among the general car-buying public, it’s also having an impact on drivers’ education fleets.

The manufacturers with the greatest grip on these fleets?

  • GM (includes Chevy, Saturn, Pontiac, Buick, GMC): 44.8%
  • Ford (includes Ford and Mercury): 29.7%
  • Chrysler: 12.2%
  • Hyundai: 4.8%
  • Toyota (includes Toyota and Scion): 4%
  • Honda: 3.3%


The age of cars used in 2010 and 2011 in Chicagoland drivers’ education courses is not terribly old. In fact, the average age is 4.8 years, which is just less than the typical amount of time the buying public holds on to its cars. A few other facts:

  • 54% of cars were purchased no later than the 2009 model year
  • 68% were purchased no later than the 2006 model year
  • Fully 81% were purchased since the 2001 model year
By Patrick Olsen | September 17, 2011 | Comments (5)


Matt C

I think I'm on board with kids using old cars to learn in. If/when it breaks down then it is a very valuable learning experience. The crash safety thing is the only thing that really worries me, but if you tell them they're driving a death trap they might be extra careful.

Interesting that they allow cars so old. I believe the rules in Maryland require driver's ed cars to be retired after five years. (At least, that's what my driving instructor told me.)


Lack of regulation is good. Let the free market decide how safe our kids should be.


When I took Driver's Ed in Late 1969, my high school's cars were donated by local car dealerships. We has two full-size Pontiacs and a mid-size Dodge Coronet.


In case we're forgetting something here, there is usually a second brake pedal installed for the instructor to use. This alone probably reduces the risk of serious accidents by A LOT.

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