Teen Driving: How To Protect Your Children

By Richard A. McGrath, CIC, LIA

What is the greatest danger teenage children face today?

By far, it’s auto accidents, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), which says it is the leading cause of death for teens and is responsible for one in three teen deaths.  Auto accidents are responsible for about eight teen deaths daily, while more than 350,000 teens are treated in emergency rooms each year for injuries resulting from auto accidents.

Per mile driven, teen drivers who are 16 to 19 years old are four times more likely than older drivers to crash, according to the CDC.

Males aged 15 to 19 are at particular risk, accounting for nearly two thirds of the fatalities in that age group (12,479), compared to females (6,579), according to the CDC.  Teens that are newly licensed and have little driving experience also have a higher number of injuries.

Driving at night and driving with other teens in the car also increases the risk of a crash.  The risk increases when the number of passengers increases.

Teens are more likely than older drivers to underestimate dangerous situations or not be able to recognize hazardous situations.  They are also more likely to speed and drive too close to the vehicle in front of them.

Alcohol also is often a factor.  Among male drivers between 15 and 20 years of age who were involved in fatal crashes in 2005, 37% were speeding at the time of the crash and 26% had been drinking.  In 2008, 25% of drivers ages 15 to 20 who died in motor vehicle crashes had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 g/dl or higher.

Teens also have the lowest rate of seat belt use of any age group. In 2005, 10% of high school students reported they rarely or never wear seat belts when riding with someone else.  Male high school students (12.5%) were more likely than female students (7.8%) to rarely or never wear seat belts.

What can parents do?  Educate your teens about the dangers of driving and raise them to be responsible drivers.  Zero tolerance for alcohol is a good start, but also make certain they wear seat belts, and don’t talk on their cell phones or text while driving.

Also consider not allowing your teen to drive at night or with other teens in the car until your teen has had sufficient experience and you believe he or she will drive responsibly.

The CDC and the National Safety Council are advocates for Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL), which the CDC says can reduce injury-related accidents among 16 year olds by 38% to 40%.

Using GDL, the new driver first obtains a learner’s permit, which allows driving only while supervised by a fully licensed driver.  Next comes a provisional license that allows unsupervised driving, but places limits on nighttime driving and driving with passengers.  Finally, the driver becomes fully licensed with no restrictions.

Of course, parents can institute these restrictions without an official GDL program.

Parents may also want to consider having an umbrella liability policy for themselves.  If a teen is involved in a serious accident, the injured party may file suit against the parents.

Insurance for Teens

Given the large number of fatal accidents involving teens, it’s no surprise that auto insurance is expensive for teenagers.  They can, however, take steps to reduce their insurance premiums.

The most important part of an automobile policy for teens is coverage for bodily injury and property damage.  Bodily injury limits of $100,000 per person and $300,000 per incident (100/300) or $250,000 per person and $500,000 per incident (250/500), and property damage limits of $200,000 or $250,000 are recommended.  In today’s litigious society, inadequate limits could cause financial hardship for teen drivers and their families.

Premiums for collision and comprehensive coverage will be lower if your teen drives a safe car and if the car has little value.  It costs less to repair cars that have little value, so premiums are lower.

If the car has a low value, teens may even decide to go without collision coverage or, if they are safe drivers, they may buy collision coverage with a high deductible.

Young operators can lower premiums if they have an anti-theft device installed, regularly use public transportation, or have air bags or automatic seat belts.  They can also reduce premiums if they are insured by the same company as their parents.  Most insurers will also discount premiums for teens who maintain at least a B average in school and if they take a recognized advanced driver training course, in addition to driver’s education.

The real key, though, to keeping premiums low for teen drivers is to drive safely.

For example, if your child becomes intoxicated and drives through a stop sign and hits another vehicle, 10 points will be added to his or her insurance.  Each point adds 7.5% to the cost of premiums in four major areas, so overall insurance costs would increase by nearly 75%.  And their premiums will continue to be affected for six years.

Of course, lower premiums are not the most important reason to drive safely.  Your children’s safety is the most important reason.  No one wants their teenagers to add to the CDC statistics.

Richard A. McGrath, CIC, LIA is President and CEO of McGrath Insurance Group, Inc. of Sturbridge, Mass.  He can be reached at rmcgrath@mgrathinsurance.com.

This article is written for informational purposes only and should not be construed as providing legal advice.