We all know teen drivers pose a higher risk behind the wheel than older drivers with more experience, but most teens and parents aren’t aware of what those risks mean. High auto insurance premiums might be the least of a parent’s worries if their son or daughter is involved in a serious accident. Consider the facts: Over a quarter of a million teenage drivers were rushed to the ER due to car accidents in 2010, and nearly one out of every one hundred of them died due to their injuries. These statistics from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) Teen Driver Fact Sheet should be enough to keep teens and parents vigilant about safe driving, but each year the trend continues.
The CDC also reports that teen drivers are three times more likely to be involved in an accident than drivers over the age of twenty. It’s no wonder car insurance premiums for teenagers are through the roof. Fortunately, the CDC and other agencies have developed sound strategies to keep teens safe on the road – strategies that also keep their rates affordable.
How to Prepare Teens for Driving
• Driver’s Education Courses and Programs
o Most adult drivers have internalized their driving habits; so, when trying to teach “instincts” to sons and daughters, parents probably won’t be as effective as you might hope. No parent can substitute for a professional driving instructor.
o Tip for parents: Your local department of licensing or department of motor vehicles may offer courses and educational materials to help, and private lessons are readily available across the country. Be sure to go with an accredited or well-established driving instructor, as some fly-by-night instructors might only waste your money and impart few long-lasting skills.
• Learner’s Permit and Driving With Parental Supervision
o Most states require new drivers to obtain a learner’s permit before they can apply for their license, with the majority of states requiring a certain number of parent-supervised driving hours logged and recorded by the parent.
o Tip for parents: Remember to take time to pull over, take a deep breath, and discuss your teen’s driving errors and successes. Particularly if your teen driver is making your blood pressure skyrocket, take a moment to calm yourself so you can be the most effective teacher possible and foster a good environment for them to learn.
• Websites, Mobile Apps, and Car Accessories for Safe Driving
o While it may seem counterintuitive, some smartphone apps can help teens drive more safely and with fewer distractions. A few apps of this type operate on a simple premise: lock down the phone’s texting, calling, or browsing functions until the car is at a stand still.
o Allstate offers informative and entertaining videos and games to capture teens’ attention and educate them about safe driving.
o Tip for parents: Ask your insurer about GPS units, dashboard cameras, and other gadgets to track your teen’s driving. Such devices, which are readily available online, not only notify the parent by text or email when their teen driver strays a certain distance from home, they also notify parents when the teen exceeds certain speed limits, drives erratically, or is involved in an accident. Many major insurers offer these devices, or provide discounts for families who purchase and install them on their cars.
• Safe Driving Pledges and Contracts
o Create a safe driving contract with your teen driver, and have them sign it to acknowledge their commitment to road safety. Setting down specific guidelines and agreements will keep them aware of right and wrong, and will set specific consequences if they break the contract.
o The Maine Bureau of Motor Vehicles provides a sample contract as a foundation for your agreement with your teen driver.
Rules of the Road
Even the best education on safe driving will be useless if your teen driver isn’t aware of the rules of the road – both the laws and regulations around operating a motor vehicle, and the unwritten rules of the road for safe driving habits.
• New Driver Laws
o Curfews: Many states impose curfews on drivers under the age of 18, which can vary between weeknights and weekends. Check with your local DMV to see what regulations apply at the state or local level.
o Seatbelts: While seatbelts are required for drivers and passengers in nearly all states, certain states will issue tickets to any unbuckled passengers as well as the driver. To avoid a hike in car insurance premiums after such a violation, make sure your teen is requiring that their friends buckle up and that they only carry as many passengers as there are seatbelts in the car.
• What to Do if a Police Officer Pulls Over Your Teen Driver
o Rehearse the procedure in advance. Walk through the following steps with your teen to prepare them for getting stopped by an officer.
o Keep all current registration and insurance cards in an easy to find place. A brightly colored envelope or pouch in the glove box works well.
o Keep hands on the wheel, stay calm. When a police officer pulls over a vehicle and sees people moving around, shuffling in their seats, or fidgeting inside the car, officers are trained to suspect the worse: weapons, drugs, or illegal materials in the car, and your teen will not like the officer’s reaction. Wait for the officer to approach the car, and when the officer asks for license, insurance, and registration, tell the officer “I’m going to open the glovebox for the documents” before doing so.
o Be polite, give brief answers, and only speak when spoken to. Most teens have difficulty acknowledging their mistakes, and arguing with a police officer over an “unfair” ticket is not the best way to get off with a verbal warning.
o Apologize, and say “please” and “thank you.” In most cases, an officer has discretion to give a driver a ticket, written warning, or verbal warning. A simple apology and common courtesies can go a long way towards keeping your teen driver’s record clean.
• What to Do in Case of an Accident
o Pull off the roadway, turn on hazard lights. Get to a safe spot on the side of the road or in a parking lot before exiting the vehicle. Never stop in the middle of the road or intersection.
o Call 911 or the local police department, even if it is a minor accident. Having a police report on what actually happened will be invaluable to document the case later on, even for a minor fender bender.
o Exchange information. The name, address, phone number, driver’s license number, license plate, vehicle year/make/model for all drivers involved in the accident, including any witnesses or passengers. For the other driver, also get their insurance company, policy number, and claims phone number, which can be found on their auto insurance card.
o Don’t make any admissions of fault. Accidents can be traumatic and unsettling, so you can’t be sure what happened immediately after the fact. Leave it up to the police, witnesses, and insurers to say who had the right of way and who was at fault.
o Take pictures of everything at the scene of the accident. All involved vehicles, license plates, the whole road or intersection, a wide angle shot showing the whole scene, as well as close-ups of the damage to vehicles.
o Get statements from witnesses. Written down, recorded on video or audio, and keep track of the witnesses’ names and phone numbers. They can be called on later for official statements if needed for a legal dispute.
o After everything has calmed down and everyone has gone home, decide whether to file a claim, and whether to call your insurer. See if you can work with the other involved drivers to handle it off insurance to keep your teen driver’s rates low. Be sure to document all damage, repairs, and expenses in case you need to open up a claim should the cost of repairs skyrocket. Most insurers will still handle a claim even if you’ve taken some steps towards managing it yourself, so long as they can investigate and keep track of everything.
• Underage Drinking and Driving
o A serious risk: According to the CDC, in 2010, 22% of drivers aged 15 to 20 involved in fatal motor vehicle crashes were under the influence of alcohol. While many parents may want to believe their children would never drink and drive, the CDC further reports that “In a national survey conducted in 2011, 24% of teens reported that, within the previous month, they had ridden with a driver who had been drinking alcohol and 8% reported having driven after drinking alcohol within the same one-month period.”
o Guilt by association. In many states, if a teen driver is transporting an underage passenger who has been drinking, both the passenger and driver can be ticketed for underage drinking, even if the driver is completely sober. Check your state’s regulations and contact your local DMV for more information on what rules apply.
o Have a serious talk with your teen. Make sure they know that they can call you to get a ride if their friends have been drinking, and that they should never ride with an intoxicated friend or get behind the wheel with alcohol in their system.
Teens and Car Insurance
Teen drivers account for some of the highest premiums among all drivers, and while the statistics indicate that teens do pose a higher risk than older drivers, there are a handful of steps you can take to keep your family’s premiums low.
o Ways to Save Money on Car Insurance for Teen Drivers
“Good student” discounts. Your insurer may offer discounts for good report cards, typically A’s and B’s or a GPA above 3.5. Quite simply, studious drivers are seen as more responsible and lower-risk drivers than those with poor grades.
Keep your teen driver on the family policy. This will offer your teen lower rates than if they buy their own auto insurance policy.
Remove them as a driver from certain vehicles. If your teen will be limited to driving the family minivan, have them removed from driving the family’s other vehicles. This will cause them to be uninsured in the event they get behind the wheel of another family car, so keep in mind which car they’re allowed to take out on Saturday night.
Driving safety courses. Many insurers offer discounts to teen drivers who complete a driver safety course. Ask your insurer what options are available.
Dashboard cameras and tracking devices. Many insurers offer discounts to families who install “black box” recording devices, GPS trackers, and dash-mounted cameras in their teen’s cars.
Choose your teen’s car carefully. Certain car models offer varying safety ratings, have higher or lower cost of repairs, and subsequently cost more or less to insure, even among similar models from different manufacturers. Research rate quotes for various different models before settling on a car for your teen driver.
Never Stop Teaching & Learning
Whether your teen driver is just getting their permit, or is ready to head off to college, take some time to review your teen’s driving habits, safety practices, and accident preparedness. By checking with your insurer about possible discounts and driver education courses, you may be able to both improve your teen’s driving safety and lower your car insurance rates at the same time.
This is a guest blog entry by Jeff Rieger