Teen Drivers Increase Costs, Worries
Putting your teen behind the wheel of a car is going to cost you.
While most parents tend to put insurance, fuel, and maintenance costs at the top of their list of expenses, you also can expect to make significant outlays of time and worry. And that's before you start considering the little accessories that may accompany teen drivers, like cell phones, parking tickets, and tow trucks.
Recognizing "parent power"
Paying the bills for teen drivers gives parents control over driving privileges. Parents can use that control to manage the costs--and the risks--of having a teen driver in the family.
"Parents have a lot of power," says Allan Williams, Ph.D., chief scientist at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), Arlington, Va. "Up to age 18, parents have to sign for the teen's driver's license in order for them to get it, and they can also take it away from them until they're age 18." Parents can write to the Department of Motor Vehicles in their state to have the license revoked.
Williams says the risks of teen driving include a significantly higher rate of accidents, with roughly one of five 16-year-olds involved in an accident. Factors that make teen accidents more likely include nighttime driving and driving with other teens in the car. Many states seek to address these risks with "graduated license" programs, which limit the number of passengers that can accompany teen drivers and the hours when teens can drive. More information about safe driving and graduated license programs is available at the IIHS Web site.
Learning to drive
Parents should start influencing the driving experience by setting rules before the teen starts driver's education courses. Once the teen gets a learner's permit, parents should aim to provide as much behind-the-wheel training as possible.
Paying the bills for teen drivers gives parents control over driving privileges.
"The more supervised driving, the better driver the teen will be," Williams says.
Teen driving expenses begin with driver's education fees. Some states still offer driver's education in the public schools, but charge a fee for the privilege. Even when public schools offer the course, many parents prefer to pay for courses at private driving schools that offer flexible scheduling. Expect course fees to run in the $250 range, which may increase when schools offer convenience services like door-to-door drop-off and pick-up for behind-the-wheel training sessions.
The Department of Motor Vehicles also will charge fees for both learner's permits and the probationary license. In Wisconsin, teens pay $25 for their learner's permit, which is good for 12 months, and $18 for a probationary license. When they turn 19, they pay another $18 for a permanent driver's license.
Insuring teen drivers
Even if your teen follows all the rules, vehicle insurance is a major cost for teen drivers and their families. The increase in your insurance bill can range from several hundred dollars to several thousand dollars a year, according to Tom Ellefson, actuary auto lines director for American Family Insurance, Madison, Wis., and board member for the Highway Loss Data Institute, which works with the IIHS to study driver and vehicle safety issues.
Ellefson says contacting your insurance agent is the best way to determine how much your insurance will increase when your teen obtains a driver's license. Some factors that affect costs are within your control, while others reflect an objective assessment of the increased risk that results from having a teen at the wheel.
"The more supervised driving, the better driver the teen will be."
Getting wheels and more
Parents who choose to buy a car for their teen should consider more than the vehicle's cost. For example, buying a car equipped with air bags can greatly increase your teen's chance of survival after an accident. So can the vehicle's weight and body style. The IIHS can help parents learn more about the safety of individual models and provides publications aimed at selecting a safer car. As a general rule of thumb, Ellefson says larger vehicles tend to be safer because they protect occupants better in a crash than smaller ones. Persuading your teen to always wear a safety belt also will increase significantly the odds of surviving an accident.
Many parents give teen drivers a cell phone so they have access to emergency aid if an accident occurs. Yet that decision might increase the teen's risk if he or she drives while talking on the phone; Williams says teens probably are more susceptible to the distracting effects of cell phones.
Both Ellefson and Williams advise parents to consider asking teens to share the cost of driving, from gasoline to insurance. Teens also should pay for consequences of poor decisions or irresponsible driving, such as fines or increases in insurance premiums after an accident.
The increase in your insurance bill can range from several hundred dollars to several thousand dollars a year.
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