Hit The Road

Heading into the summer months, parents may dread the frequency of an often anxiety-inducing question: “Can I borrow the car keys?” While a driver’s license may represent a milestone on the road toward adulthood, paying the car insurance for teen drivers could drive parents into the poorhouse. “When you add a teen driver, it’s going to hit you,” says Carole Walker, executive director of the Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association in Denver.

Julius Wayne, a physical education teacher at a religious elementary school in Las Vegas, knows that firsthand. When his daughter, Anita, now 18 and a college freshman, got her wheels two years ago, Wayne went from paying $2,400 a year to insure himself and his ex-wife to a whopping $3,900 for a policy for all three drivers-a 63% increase. “Naturally the insurance went up,” he says. “But she was so anxious to drive, and we wanted to get her on the road.” So like millions of parents across the country, Wayne ponied up.

Teenagers can add 50% to 100% to their parents’ auto insurance premium. And for good reason: 16- to 20-year-olds have the most accidents per mile driven, four times that of drivers 20 and older, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Naturally, the higher the risk a driver poses, the higher the premium charged.

It’s almost impossible to avoid this financial shock (unless you ban driving until your child earns his or her doctorate). However, “the first thing you want to do is sit down with an insurance agent and see what discounts are available,” says Robert Passmore, director of personal lines with the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America in Des Plaines, Illinois.

Policies vary by carrier, so it’s worth asking about discounts, such as those offered for good grades or driver’s education courses. Or you can raise your deductible. You might also save by having your homeowner’s and auto insurance with the same company. If your kids go to a college more than 100 miles from home (and leave the car behind), you can make them an occasional driver and save even more.

Generally, it’s best to add your teen driver to your own policy rather than purchase stand-alone coverage. “You’ll get the benefit of your own good driving record,” says Carolyn Gorman, vice president with the New York-based Insurance Information Institute, a trade group. One exception: If you own a new luxury vehicle that is expensive to insure, adding a high-risk driver could push up your insurance costs substantially. You might do better by purchasing your teen an older car and obtaining a separate policy.

Teen drivers who earn a B or better in school may be eligible for discounts of up to 25%. Says Gorman: “Responsible behavior in school tends to carry over to a teenager’s personal life.”

They aren’t hip, but midsize and large sedans are not only safer, they cost less to insure than sports cars or sports utility vehicles. “You want [teen drivers] in a