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Parents aren’t enforcing teen driver laws

By Posted : 05/31/2016

Most parents are ignoring teen driving laws that were put into place to protect young drivers, according to a new Insurance.com survey.

The survey of 500 parents of teen drivers conducted by OP4G for Insurance.com found that minor drivers are allowed by their parents to violate Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) laws, which can put them and others at risk.  

GDL guidelines save lives

Auto accidents are the leading cause of teen deaths in the US, but it’s been proven that many can be prevented. During the 1990s, states began implementing special guidelines for new, underage drivers, in order to reduce traffic fatalities among this age group. New drivers must adhere to stricter rules, which are relaxed over time as the kids gain experience.

The most common GDL restrictions include:

  • Prohibitions against driving after dark
  • Driving curfews (no late-night driving)
  • Rules against driving with minor passengers
  • Bans on cellphone use
  • Driving supervision requirements

The programs seem to work – between 1999 and 2012, vehicle-related fatalities among 15- to 19-year-olds fell by 50 percent.

Most parents don’t completely enforce GDL

The restrictions only work, however, if they’re followed. Most parents ignore at least some GDL rules, according to the Insurance.com survey.

One-third of respondents said they allow their children to drive with underage passengers. Thirty percent permit their teens to drive at night, and nearly as many (29 percent) tolerate cell phone use by their young drivers.

One-fourth of parents don’t enforce driving curfews, and nearly one in five parents indicated that they don’t always supervise their newly-licensed children. Only 41 percent said that they do not let their children ignore any licensing restrictions.

The price of slacking

Teens whose parents do not rigorously enforce the law exhibit different driving patterns. Their habits are 30 percent more likely to be described (by their own parents!) as “very scary.” In addition, these drivers are more likely to violate parental rules and vehicle codes -- engaging in unsafe practices ranging from speeding to driving under the influence. Unrestricted teens are:

  • 87 percent more likely to break driving curfew
  • 41 percent more likely to drive with friends as passengers
  • 11 percent more likely to use a cellphone for any purpose
  • 85 percent more likely to drive unsupervised
  • 65 percent more likely to violate nighttime driving laws
  • 57 percent more likely to speed
  • 43 percent more likely to drive under the influence

Scary drivers = expensive insurance

The cost of adding a teenager to your insurance policy depends on many factors, including your location, availability of discounts for teen drivers, and your teen’s driving ability. This graph shows the distribution of costs for all parents surveyed.

Adding a teen

All other factors being equal, you’ll pay less the more carefully your teen drives (resulting in fewer tickets and accidents).

The chart below shows the relationship between teen drivers’ “scariness,” as evaluated by their parents, and the cost of their car insurance. Teens with scarier driving styles are more likely to be at the expensive end of the insurance premium spectrum, while the least scary drivers are more likely to be cheaper to insure.


Knowing what is likely to cause your teen to break rules and drive unsafely is key to improving their habits (and lowering your insurance rates).

National Sports Car Club of America racing champion Debbie Kerswill, and mother of champion driver Rachel Kerswill, says parents are the key to educating teens about safer driving.

“In my opinion, far too few parents become properly involved with their child's driving privilege, and hearing that more than half let their kids get away with GLS limits concerns me since I'm another driver on the same road,” she says. “Kids need to learn to respect the 3,000-plus pound weapon they have in their hands, and without guidelines and oversight their minds will not be focused on safety.”

Worst teen driving habits

Most parents reported that their teen’s driving needs improvement, and that they have some bad habits, including driving too fast, blasting music while driving, and following too closely.

Teen habits

Most common excuses for driving violations

Adolescents and young adults can be emotional and impulsive. They drive when rushed, tired, hungry and upset, and these feelings may seem much more important to them at the time than their own safety. Here are the top triggers for unsafe driving:

  • I was late / in a hurry
  • I was in a bad mood / having romantic problems
  • I was distracted by friends
  • I was hungry
  • The call might have been important

There’s one more excuse that should really get parents to pay attention to the message their actions send: “YOU do it!”

Discounts for teen drivers

Besides improving your teen’s driving, other methods for lowering your insurance costs include taking advantage of teen driver discounts. Most parents in the survey reported taking advantage of at least one discount:

  • Good student: 55%
  • Completed driving training course: 61%
  • Safety features on teen's car: 47%
  • Installed driving monitor: 30%
  • Teen driving contract: 22%
  • No discounts: 5%

While more involvement in your teenager’s driving can reduce the cost of adding a teenager to your car insurance policy, the bigger payoff is, of course, reducing the odds of injury to your child and others.

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