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The safest cars for teen drivers – and what parents should look for

If you are looking for a safe, affordable car for your teen, the U.S. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) recommends heavier vehicles with less horsepower.

In Canada, more than 2,000 people die yearly as a result of a car crash. That number is more than 30,000 in the United States and, per mile, teen drivers are nearly three times more likely to be in a fatal crash than those aged 20 and older.

To help parents, the IIHS, an organization that crash-tests cars, put together a non-ranked list of used vehicles that are the best for teens. And because many parents have a limited budget, all the cars cost less than $20,000 (U.S.). A survey conducted by IIHS found that the average price for teen's car was $9,800 (U.S.), but the institute recommends spending a bit more to get a vehicle with added safety features.

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"Prices for most of the vehicles we recommend for young, novice drives are still higher than what a lot of people are used to spending," says IIHS senior vice-president for research Anne McCartt, in a statement. "We would encourage parents to consider paying a little more for safety if they can."

The least expensive vehicle on the list is the 2005 Volvo XC90 at $4,600 and the least expensive mid-size car is the 2009 Volkswagen Jetta at $5,600. All prices are based on the Kelley Blue Book value.

When it comes to keeping a teen safe, IIHS says there are three key items parents should look for – low horsepower, high weight and technology.

"The temptation to test the limits of a power engine is too hard for many teens to resist," reads an IIHS statement. "Vehicles that only come with big engines have been left off the lists … The base engines of all the listed vehicles have adequate power for teens."

IIHS says it doesn't include small cars on the list because bigger, heavier cars are safer. And researchers say electronic stability control, which helps a driver maintain control on slippery roads, is a must. "It's a proven lifesaver, cutting single-vehicle fatal crash risk nearly in half," reads the statement.

The list has grown by more than 50 per cent since last year. McCartt says this has to do with the fact that this year more used vehicles come with the must-have safety features as compared to last.

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