Take Steps to Protect Your Teen Driver

Earning a driver’s license is an exciting rite of passage for many teenagers. While young drivers might view their car and driver’s license as symbols of freedom, they should also recognize the dangers of driving. Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for U.S. teenagers ages 15-20, with 1,678 drivers ages 16-20 dying in motor vehicle crashes in 2014.1

If you have a teen driver in your family, this may be a good time to make sure both you and your teen understand the applicable rules, safety concerns, and insurance issues.

Supervised Stages

Newly licensed teens are more likely to be involved in an automobile crash than more experienced teen drivers. Every state has implemented graduated driver licensing (GDL) programs to provide drivers ages 15 to 17 with more practice and to discourage risky behavior. GDL laws typically involve a three-stage program that helps foster a protective and distraction-free environment while new drivers are still learning to operate a vehicle.2

Stage one is the permit stage, which specifies a set number of hours of supervised practice and a set amount of time (often six months) before the license to drive solo may be granted. Stage two is the provisional period in which peer passengers are limited or banned altogether and late-night driving is restricted. Other restrictions such as banning phones and other electronic devices may be included in this phase. Stage three is a full, unrestricted license.

The good news is the phase-in of teen driving privileges has reduced accidents and fatalities. On average, graduated licensing has reduced teen crashes 10%-30%.3

To fully benefit from these laws, teens have to obey the restrictions — and this may require parental involvement. Make sure your teen understands these are legal requirements with serious consequences for breaking them. Since the United States does not have a national GDL law, each state will enforce it differently, so check to see which provisions apply to your state.

Recognize Risks

GDL programs attempt to address a variety of known risks for teen drivers. Here are some of the risks research has identified.

  • Poor judgment. Teenagers are more likely than older drivers to underestimate dangerous situations and not recognize hazardous conditions.4
  • Driving with friends. Having other teenagers as passengers increases risk, with a direct relationship between number of passengers and risk.5 Almost all state GDL programs have some level of passenger restriction.6
  • Distracted driving. In 2014, 10% of drivers ages 15-19 involved in fatal crashes were distracted at the time of the crash.7 Besides cellphone use, distracting behaviors can include reaching for an object, playing with the radio, and turning to talk to a passenger.
  • Speeding and tailgating. Younger drivers lack experience on the road. This affects their ability to recognize hazardous situations and react accordingly, making teen drivers more likely to speed and tailgate.
  • Wearing seat belts. Teens have the lowest rate of seat-belt use, so it’s important to emphasize the need for seat belts whether driving solo or with passengers. In 2013, 56% of teens ages 13-20 died in passenger vehicle crashes because they were not wearing a seatbelt. According to research, seatbelt use reduces injuries and deaths in serious accidents by approximately half.8
  • Drinking alcohol. The fact that alcohol consumption is illegal for those under 21 does not always keep teens from drinking and driving. In 2014, 17% of drivers ages 16-20 involved in fatal motor vehicle accidents were alcohol-impaired.9
  • Boys vs. girls. Although all young drivers are at greater risk than the general population, female teen drivers are two times more likely than their male counterparts to use phones and other electronic devices while driving. On the other hand, male teen drivers were twice as likely to turn around in their seats or communicate with people outside of the vehicle while driving.10

Along with understanding and enforcing your state’s program, you may want to implement your own rules and emphasize specific risks to your teenagers. One way to make the rules and consequences clear is to create a parent-teen driver agreement and post it where both you and your teen can see it. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a sample agreement that you can download at cdc.gov/ParentsAreTheKey/agreement.

Because of the greater risk, it’s not surprising that auto insurance rates are higher for teen drivers. However, many insurance companies offer a good student discount, typically for students with a grade-point average of B or higher. Some companies also offer discounts to families who install electronic devices that enable parents to monitor their children’s driving habits. These companies may partially subsidize the cost of the devices as well.11 Although insuring a newly licensed driver may come with sticker shock, rates typically go down as a young driver gains more experience and maintains a clean driving record.

We’re here to help! Our Credit-Union-owned insurance agency, Member Advantage Insurance Services, is here for you. Reach out to them free of charge at 800.866.6474 x2296 or info@memberadvantageins.com to discuss insuring a teen driver or any other insurance need.