Teen-related car crashes remain the leading cause of death and injury among 15- to 19-year-olds, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In addition, teen drivers are responsible for an estimated $34 billion in medical treatment, property damage and other costs each year, according to a 2006 report by AAA.
Given those figures, it’s no wonder that your auto insurance premiums spike when you add a teen to your policy.
To make sure your novice driver stays crash-free -- and to make sure your auto insurance premiums don't go soar even more -- traffic safety organizations and auto insurance companies suggest families complete a parent-teen driving contract. It's a written pact that lets parents and teens establish ground rules for safe driving.
Here are eight elements that should be covered in a parent-teen driving contract.
1. Enforce graduated driver's licensing.
Parents who enforce their state’s graduated driver's licensing laws -- which set up programs to let teens safely learn how to drive before gaining full behind-the-wheel privileges -- report a lower incidence of their teens being ticketed or getting into collisions. That's according to a 2009 survey by the National Organizations for Youth Safety (NOYS) and the Allstate Foundation.
Graduated driver's licensing laws vary widely from state to state, with some barely making a dent in teen driver safety, experts say.
“Many of these licensing systems fall short of what parents should be implementing with their kids,” says Justin McNaull, director of state relations at AAA. “That’s where a parent-teen driving agreement should look at a state’s laws only as a starting point and then go beyond that.”
2. Curb access to the car.
AAA Foundation research found that kids who have their own cars are more likely to crash.
“From the insurance standpoint, one of the quickest steps you can do is assessing if your teen actually needs his own car. If he doesn’t, don’t give him one,” McNaull says. “That’s one less vehicle you have to insure. More importantly, it will significantly reduce the likelihood that your teen will be involved in a crash.”
3. Limit the number of passengers.
With each additional non-family passenger who's also a teen, an unsupervised teen driver boosts his risk of crashing, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Some graduated driver's licensing laws dictate that a teen with a probationary or learner's license should have only one teen passenger at a time. Meg Kramer, founder of the StreetSafe Driving Academy in Bryn Mawr, Pa., recommends that a teen driver in the learning stage shouldn't have any teen passengers at all, and "that’s because the risk of accidents is so incredibly high."
In the parent-teen contract, a clause on traveling as a passenger in another teen driver’s car can be valuable, says Sue Duchak, senior manager of the Allstate Foundation's Teen Safe Driving Program. “Parents can use a contract to encourage their teens to speak up if they are driving or riding in a car in a dangerous situation,” Duchak says.
A 2009 report by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found 60 percent of teen passenger deaths occurred in vehicles driven by other teens.
4. Restrict nighttime driving.
Teenagers are involved in more crashes late in the day and at night than at other times, with Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights being the most deadly. Teens also are up to six times more likely than adults to be involved in fatal crashes between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m., according to the Department of Transportation.
AAA recommends 9 p.m. as the cut-off time for teen drivers to be on the road.
“In many states, nighttime driving restrictions for new drivers don’t start until midnight,” Duchak says. “Parents might want to consider restricting their teen’s driving to earlier in the evening, especially in the days and weeks right after the teen gets a license.”
5. Eliminate distractions.
Laws in 30 states and the District of Columbia already restrict all cellphone use by novice drivers, but this is one area where teens often ignore the rules.
Eighty-three percent of teenagers acknowledge talking on cellphones while driving, according to the NOYS/Allstate Foundation survey, and 68 percent say they’ve texted behind the wheel. Both activities have been shown to be more dangerous than driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
“If they need to talk on the phone or text someone for some reason, they need to pull over and then continue driving after they are done,” says Jennifer Funkhouser, president of CarCheckup, provider of a system that helps parents monitor their teens’ driving habits.
6. Reinforce drunken driving dangers.
The parent-teen contract should underscore the importance of not drinking while driving. Sixteen- to 20-year-olds are responsible for 17 percent of all traffic deaths involving alcohol, according to the most recent report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
7. Enforce seat belt laws.
You’ve been buckling them up since they were babies, but the message on seat belts hasn’t penetrated the teen brain. Seat belt use among teens and young adults ages 16 to 24 is the lowest of any age group -- just 76 percent in 2006, according to the highway traffic safety administration. More than half of 16- to 20-year-olds involved in fatal crashes weren't buckled up.
8. Stress the speed limit.
Speeding still remains one of the top reasons for car crashes. In 2008, officials say, more than one-third of male drivers ages 15 to 20 who were involved in fatal crashes were speeding.