Teen drivers are the most vulnerable motorists on the road. They take unnecessary risks. They're inexperienced. They're more likely to sit behind the wheel of used cars that don't contain the latest safety technology.

It's no wonder that traffic accidents are the leading cause of death for teenagers.

It doesn't have to be that way. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has developed a checklist for parents and teens shopping for a new car. These items help protect teen drivers, who are more likely to be involved in a crash than any other road users.

In addition to compiling a list of 56 specific makes and models recommended for teens, IIHS, a non-profit organization dedicated to reducing death and injury on the nation's roads, recommends the following features and guidelines to parents and teens who are car shopping:

Electronic Stability Control – The organization says this feature is "a must" that will help drivers maintain control on curves and slippery roads. IIHS says it reduces risk on a level comparable to seat belts.

Bigger is better – On a first-of-its-kind list of cars the organization recommends for teens, there are no minicars or small cars. While safety technology can differ, simple physics suggests that bigger cars will offer better protection in a crash.

Avoid high horsepower – Vehicles with more powerful engines present a more powerful risk. IIHS recommends several vehicles for teens, and says there's adequate power in their base models for safe driving.

Spend a little more – Eighty-three percent of parents said they bought used cars for their child, according to a recent IIHS survey, and the median cost was $5,300.

There are many cars on IIHS' recommended list that cost less than $10,000, but only three that fall under that median price. Anne McCartt, senior vice president for research at IIHS, says parents should consider paying a little bit more. "Unfortunately, it's very difficult to get a safe vehicle for a teenager at the prices most people are paying," she said.

And they need the protection more than others. IIHS says that teen drivers have crash rates that are three times higher than 20-year-old drivers, and a Texas A&M study says novice drivers ages 15 to 17 have crash rates eight times higher than those ages 18 to 24 if they are carrying passengers.

There are some obvious things a parent can do to keep their kids safer behind the wheel, such as buying a car that earns high marks on the crash tests conducted by IIHS and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

And while it may seem like an obvious, no-brainer that teenagers should wear their seat belts, it's easier recommended than implemented.

More than half the teen drivers killed in fatal crashes in 2012 were not wearing their seat belts, according to research released earlier this month by the Governors Highway Safety Association. Even worse, 60 percent of teen passengers killed were unbelted. By contrast, 86 percent of overall drivers use their seat belts, according to 2012 data provided by NHTSA.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has recommended 56 specific used makes and models for teens, including the Buick Enclave, Honda Odyssey, Subaru Forester and Toyota Highlander. Because the organizations are for specific models years, parents and teens should make sure to look at the specific recommendations here before making any final car-buying decisions.

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

Pete Bigelow is an associate editor at AOL Autos. He can be reached via email at peter.bigelow@teamaol.com and followed on Twitter @PeterCBigelow.


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