The high cost of a teen driver at home

Special to The Times

Parents, brace yourselves. Your teenager's safety behind the wheel may not be your only worry when your teen gets his or her driver's license. The cost of adding your teen to your auto insurance policy can be astronomical: Premiums could more than double in price, particularly if your young driver is male.

When Susan and Brad Wilkins, who live in Rossmoor, added their 16-year-old son, Robert, to their policy recently, their six-month premiums jumped from $400 to $1,160. "In my day you could buy a car for [that] amount," Susan Wilkins said.

Although Brad Wilkins doesn't relish paying higher auto insurance premiums for his son, he acknowledges that the higher costs for teens are probably justified. "I know of three teen drivers who have totaled their cars in the last year. I don't know one adult who did the same," he said.

That's one reason premiums are so costly for teenagers. Although insurance rates are linked to how long and how good a motorist's driving record is, insurers also know that teenagers have the highest fatality rate in vehicle crashes of any age group. Therefore they have less driving experience and are more likely to engage in risky behavior behind the wheel.

"The general rule of thumb on pricing is that a teen daughter added to an auto insurance policy could increase the premium by up to 50%," said Candysse Miller, executive director of the Insurance Information Network of California.

However, adding your son to the policy may double the cost of your policy, she said. Why? "Teenage boys are typically involved in more collisions than teenage girls," Miller said.

In 2000, 21% of male teen drivers nationwide were involved in vehicle collisions, compared with 17% of female teen drivers, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in Virginia.

But significantly lower rates for female teenage drivers may soon be a thing of the past. Accidents involving female teens have been rising since 1990, Miller said. If the trend continues, auto insurance costs for teenagers of both sexes should get closer to even, she said.

And if your teen has an accident or gets a ticket, expect his or her insurance rates to jump more than for an older driver.

One way to hold down insurance costs are the "good student" discounts offered by many insurers.

Brad Wilkins said his insurer, 21st Century Insurance Group, offers a 15% discount for boys and a 10% discount for girls who maintain a B average in school. Parents can also use the discount as an incentive for their kids to get better grades.

The Automobile Club of Southern California suggests that parents check the insurance rates for various vehicles before buying one for their teenagers. Obviously, a sports car will cost far more to insure than an economy car, said AAA spokeswoman Elaine Beno.

Although many families look forward to their teens being able to drive alone, others hold off giving their children a car or access to the family vehicle as long as possible. For many, it's a matter of safety.

This issue of auto insurance for teens hits close to home. When I checked with my insurer, Geico Direct, about adding my son, Marc, to our auto insurance policy, I was told our premiums would increase from $600 every six months to $1,286. That rate is based on his being classified as an occasional driver of one of our two family vehicles. If he had his own car or became the primary driver, the six-month premium would increase to $1,499. He also may qualify for a 10% "good student" discount with a B average.

Though the insurance rates are steep, that's not my biggest concern.

My son has his learner's permit and is very anxious to get his license. But every time I read a news story about a bad accident involving teenagers, or review teen collision and injury statistics, I cringe.

Jeanne Wright can be reached at

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