A Teenager Driver’s Impact On Your Cost For Auto Insurance

Countless times I hear parents complain about the cost to add a son or daughter to their auto policy. They are inexperienced and very likely will get into one or more accidents before they hit age 21. Let’s challenge each new driver to beat a National Safety Council statistic showing more than 90% of teen drivers will get into an accident in their first two years of driving.

Insurance rates for youthful drivers in Rhode Island are actually higher than some other New England States. The graduated license program instituted a couple years ago may begin to show stabilization in the rate climb for youthful operators but it is unlikely to decrease for a variety of reasons.

Rhode Island is a “comparative negligence” state. That means when you or your child is involved in an accident the insurance companies examine the driver statements, the police reports, any witness statements, damage to respective vehicles or other property, and possibly conclude with an accident scene visit.  They assign a percentage of fault to each driver.  This determination is based on two key questions: what was the driver doing or failed to do that contributed to the accident? And what could they reasonably have done to avoid being involved in the accident?

When a two car accident occurs at the 4-way stop sign, it is easy to understand that the two drivers have to share fault for an accident there. “Rules of the Road” may indicate that the first vehicle to the intersection should be the first to go, but those same rules indicate that the car to the right has the right of way. These rules sometimes conflict. If two drivers fail to communicate, or if one is aggressive and the other enters the intersection with the attitude “my turn, not yours,” an accident is likely.

Defensive driving is very much like playing an instrument in an orchestra. If the drummer hits the base drum too hard or a saxophonist plays a note before or after it is called for, the smooth flow of the music is interrupted.  In the same way the Boston Pops Orchestra, comprised of very experienced musicians, would be expected to have a higher quality performance then a middle school band, it would not be fair to expect youthful operators to have developed the defensive driving skills of an experienced driver.

In an August 11, 2017 article published in “The Standard”, Dr. Gene Beresin, senior advisor on adolescent psychiatry with SADD and executive director of The Clay Center for Young Health Minds at Massachusetts General Hospital indicates “it’s natural for teens to gain confidence behind the wheel as they get older and log more driving hours. However, this age group is more likely to test the boundaries as consequences for bad driving behaviors decrease and their freedoms and responsibilities at home increase, making them feel more like adults.” He goes on to say that “as a result, it is even more important for parents and teens to have regular conversations about safe driving practices to avoid potentially putting themselves and others at risk on the road.”

He was quoted from a study conducted by Liberty Mutual Insurance and Students Against Destructive Driving (SADD). It measured teen driving attitudes and behaviors. It was conducted between April and May of this year with responses from 2,800 teens from high schools across the country. It concluded that older teenage drivers feel overconfident about their driving abilities and perceive themselves as safer drivers despite actually experiencing more accidents and near misses.

75% of high school seniors feel confident in their driving abilities compared to 34% for sophomores. Having those two years driving experience helps them with their confidence. But that gain in confidence results in riskier behaviors. 71% of seniors were likely to use a cell phone or text while driving compared to 55% of sophomores. 35% of seniors admit to speeding more than 10 mph over the posted limits compared to 18% of sophomores.

The study also included a series of questions for the parents of these students. It concluded that parents unwittingly were encouraging these behaviors. Not only through the driving examples they set by speeding, aggressive driving, cell phone use, … but by tapering off on consequences faced by youthful operators as they gain driving experience.  Nearly 70% of 16-17 year olds said they’d lose their driving privileges if they got into an accident or got a speeding violation; 55% of teens 18 or older would experience the same consequences.

Driving is both a privilege and a responsibility. Those who understand that tend to be defensive in their driving habits. Blaming the other guy for the accident, or the cop who was “out to get” your son or daughter, is not going to teach them the responsibility side of defensive driving; it certainly won’t lower your insurance rates.

The calculation of insurance rates is complicated but there is no doubt that the accident and violation history of every driver in your household effects the cost of your family’s insurance.  A single ‘at- fault’ accident or speeding violation can increase your family’s insurance costs by another $1,000 a year for 3 years. When there are multiple drivers, with multiple violations and accidents, the increases are dramatic.  Even when a family member was found less than 50% responsible for an accident, you should expect that it will still impact your family’s rates at the next renewal when you likely lose any accident free discounts you may have been receiving.

Even if your son or daughter has been driving beyond those critical first two years, you’re not out of the woods yet. They may feel otherwise, but they still fit into the inexperienced driver grouping. They are developing good or bad driving habits now. Remain vigilant as you coach the development of their driving skills; have them take responsibility for and learn from their accident. Hopefully their sudden lapse in judgment will be a near miss or a minor “fender bender”; not a serious accident with your child’s life at stake.