Teens ages 16-19 are three times more likely than drivers older than 20 to be involved in a fatal crash (or any crash, for that matter) according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. It's not too surprising, then, that teen drivers tend to have high insurance premiums. For parents, this can mean a big jump in insurance premiums once you add your teen driver to your policy. However, there are ways to reduce your costs right out of the gate, even for very inexperienced drivers. Here are some ways to keep policy costs at a minimum.
Choose the Right Car
It's simply a matter of economics. There are some cars that cost more to repair and replace than others. There are also some cars that are more likely to be stolen and others that protect passengers better in a crash. Combined, these three characteristics have a lot to do with how much you'll pay for the collision and theft portions of your policy, says David Goldstein, the author of Insure Your Car for Less: A Practical Guide to Saving Money on Automobile Insurance.
There are several ways to choose the least expensive car to drive. First, check the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's Top Safety Pick awards and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's 5-Star Safety Ratings to see which cars scored the best in crashworthiness. You'll also want to check the National Insurance Crime Bureau's list of Hot Wheels: cars that are most commonly stolen.
Your insurance broker or company can also help you find the best rate for the cars you're considering, says Goldstein, who has worked as an insurance and claims adjuster. "If you're considering several cars, call and ask for a rate quote on each," he suggests.
Midsize family cars are generally the cheapest to insure, says Jeanne Salvatore, senior vice president and chief communications officer at the Insurance Information Institute, a nonprofit information service. "You want a car that's easy to drive and highly protective. Those are the cars that are going to keep your teen safe and cost the least to insure," she says.
You may also want to consider a car that doesn't need collision insurance, which will cut your rates considerably, says Salvatore, and either way, the age of your car may lead to more discounts.
"Some companies offer a utility discount for cars older than a 2002 model year," she says. That said, make sure any older car you purchase has a solid crash rating and all of the safety features that a newer car might have including airbags, an antilock braking system (ABS), daytime running lights and (for SUVs) electronic stability control.
Adjust Driver Assignments
When you call the insurance company to add your child to a policy, the representative will ask you to designate which car will be driven by each member of your family most often.
You can save money by designating and having your child drive the car that's the least expensive to insure. The trick is finding out which car that is, says Goldstein. "Driver assignment can really affect your rates," he agrees.
If you get someone on the phone who is willing to work with you, he or she can take you through all the different scenarios. "Occasionally, I'd quote rates for four people and four different cars: two parents and two kids. If we played around with it, we could often save money," Goldstein says.
Look for Alumni Discounts or Resident-Student Discounts
One of the perks of going to college is that many schools ink alumni deals with large organizations, such as insurance companies. While the discount is usually around 5 or 10 percent, it's still worth looking into. Geico, for instance, offers an 8 percent discount for DePaul University students and alumni. Liberty Mutual offers special rates to those who attend Arizona State University.
If your child goes away to college and doesn't take a car along, you can save a lot on your premium. Allstate, for example, offers a 35 percent discount off premiums for students who live at a school that is more than 100 miles from where their car is garaged. "There's an assumption that they are only going to be driving on weekends and school vacations," says Salvatore.
Finally, all full-time high school and college students who get good grades can benefit from their diligence. Most companies offer up to 25 percent discounts for good report cards. You'll also see rates drop as your child advances in school. Seniors in college have better rates than freshman, so if your child takes college credits over the summer or in high school, let your insurance company know when he or she reaches the next college milestone, says Goldstein.
Wait an Extra Year Before Licensing
Some teens may not like this idea, but you can save a lot of money simply by having your son or daughter wait an extra year to get a driving permit.
"Wait until they are as old as possible before they get their permit," says Goldstein. "For instance, in some states you can get your learner's permit as early as 16 but you're probably not going to be driving [without restrictions] until you're 18. Why pay for insurance those two years unless you have to?"
Delaying the process is more common than you may think, according to several recent studies. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety reports that just 44 percent of teens get their licenses within 12 months of the minimum age and only 54 percent get their licenses before they turn 18.
However, if you go this route, make sure teens know that they'll still need the practice and supervision that a graduated driver licensing program affords.
Tracking for Discounts and Better Driving Habits
In recent years new devices that connect to a car's computer and use GPS technology to track driving habits and routes have flooded the market. While they can be very useful for parents who want to make sure that their teen isn't speeding or driving outside an approved area, they're also being used by insurance companies to help set rates for drivers of all ages in an approach called use-based insurance.
Snapshot, a program by Progressive Insurance, is one such option that uses a pocket-size telematics device that transmits car data using cell-phone technology. The device plugs into a car's onboard diagnostic port and measures driving habits such as how and when someone drives, tracking behaviors like mileage, time of day and if the person performs hard braking maneuvers.
"Our Snapshot program gives all consumers, including teens, more control over their car insurance costs by offering personalized discounts based on their actual driving behavior," explains Jeff Sibel, a spokesman for Progressive Insurance. "People who drive less, in safer ways and during safer times of day are most likely to receive a discount."
Some companies are offering the device for parental tracking, but without an immediate insurance discount. Its use could result in lower rates going forward, says Rebecca Hirsch, a spokeswoman for insurer USAA. "We're offering the device for free and parents get the monitoring for a year free," she says. "Parents can get text messages if their teens are doing things like hard braking. It enables the parent and the teen to have a conversation around safe driving habits. The first few years are so critical. Anecdotally, we've seen that the devices help build better driving behaviors."
Take a Class
Adults and teens alike can save money by taking a six-hour driving safety course either online or in person. Some insurance companies are offering teen-specific courses that can help reduce the number of crashes that involve teens by providing realistic driving simulations.
Liberty Mutual, for example, offers something it calls teenSMART, a program that focuses on the six factors that most commonly cause teen car accidents. The company says teens who complete the program may get "special savings" on their auto policies, but doesn't offer any examples of what those savings might be.
State Farm offers a program called Steer Clear for drivers under the age of 25 or new drivers with less than three years of driving experience. It requires drivers to watch a video, sign a safe driving parent/driver agreement and complete a certain number of supervised trips of 15-30 minutes over the course of a month, filling out a log after each trip. By completing the program, drivers can get a discount of up to 15 percent on their coverage, says State Farm spokeswoman Rachael Risinger.
Finally, driver-training classes — so-called driver's ed — can also help lower your premiums by up to 10 percent, depending on your insurer.
Make Smart Choices
Even if they apply every discount imaginable, most people will find there's no getting around the fact that rates will go up with a teen driver on the policy — at least for a little while. And while it might be tempting to simply "forget" to inform your insurance company that Junior has his license, take note: Doing so can have serious consequences if your child is in an accident.
You'll also want to make sure you have enough insurance coverage. "Don't go for the minimum limits," suggests Burl Daniel, a former insurance agent and corporate risk manager who testifies as an expert witness in insurance cases. "You're exposing yourself to potential problems, if your kid does have a wreck and seriously injures someone. Don't take the bait now just to save a few hundred dollars when it could end up costing you a lot down the road."