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The safest used cars for teen drivers

Teenager drivers, who are often less experienced behind the wheel, are nearly three times as likely to be in a fatal car crash as drivers ages 20 and over. So the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety issued its first list of used vehicles that it most recommends for young motorists.

The organization put a premium on safety features such as airbags, electronic stability control and anti-rollover systems, and most of the recommended offerings are low on power. The picks offer something for almost every pocketbook, ranging in price from around $4,000 to $20,000.

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"A teenager's first car is more than just a financial decision," said IIHS President Adrian Lund. "These lists of recommended used vehicles can help consumers factor in safety, in addition to affordability."

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The list covers a wide range of manufacturers, domestic and foreign, including Audi, Chrysler, Ford, Hyundai, Subaru and Toyota. But despite a series of high-profile recalls, it also includes several General Motors products, including the Chevrolet Malibu and Buick LaCrosse sedans, as well as the GMC Terrain crossover.

While advanced safety technologies were considered in organizing the list, the IIHS also looked for vehicles that had fundamentally safe designs, with an emphasis on factors such as high ratings for side crash prevention, good head restraints, and sufficient roof protection in the event of a rollover.

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According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 942 teens died in crashes in 2011, the latest year for which such data is available. That makes motor vehicle accidents the leading cause of death in the U.S. for those between the ages of 14 to 18, according to federal data.

More than a third of such deaths were linked to speeding, according to NHTSA, while 12 percent involved distracted driving. More half of the teens killed in crashes were not wearing seatbelts.

Click here to see the full IIHS list

By CNBC Contributor Paul A. Eisenstein. Follow him on Twitter @DetroitBureau or at thedetroitbureau.com.

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