Keep your teen driver safe behind the wheel

Parents, are you protecting your teen driver when she gets behind the wheel?

Traffic crashes result in 44 percent of teen deaths, the leading cause of teen fatalities in the U.S., according to the National Safety Council. But driving and insurance experts agree: parents can play a big role in helping their teens stay safe.

“Parents should monitor their teen’s driving habits and the condition of the vehicle they drive because drivers are responsible for the lives of their passengers and everyone else on the road with them,” says Charles Valinotti of General Casualty.

Grocery getters are the way to go

Putting your child in a safe vehicle helps protect her and could also lower your insurance rates. Valinotti recommends teens drive slightly older, sturdier vehicles in good condition and equipped with safety features. Most vehicles up to 10 years old come with standard safety features, such as airbags, head restraints and anti-lock brakes.

Avoid vehicles with performance features such as turbo-charged engines and high-performance tires, which encourage more aggressive driving.

Maintain a safe vehicle

“A lot of teens don’t realize vehicle maintenance is just as important as its make and model,” says John Blodnick of Unigard Insurance Company. “It’s your job to make sure the vehicle is running properly—not just to give them gas money.”

In addition to routine oil changes, Blodnick says, pay special attention to these items to keep your teen driving safely:

Tire condition—Make sure tires have good tread, especially in the winter months.

Tire pressure—Check pressure regularly, especially in colder weather. Air compresses 1 pound per square inch (PSI) for each 10-degree temperature drop. Check tire pressure when the vehicle hasn’t been driven, and fill to the PSI levels listed on the tires.

Brakes—Test brakes regularly. Educate your teens about warning signs, such as squeaking, the need to apply more pressure to stop, or longer stopping time.

Window washer fluid and blades—A clean windshield increases visibility. Make sure fluid levels and wiper blades are adequate, especially during snowy conditions.

Headlights and taillights—Check to ensure they’re clean and functioning. This increases visibility and can help avoid traffic citations or accidents.

Put it in writing

Before you hand your child the car keys, Valinotti recommends discussing responsibilities and drawing up a driving contract containing their responsibilities for vehicle maintenance and driving safely, including:

Obey the speed limit and traffic laws.

Wear a seatbelt and ensure passengers buckle up, too.

Do not drink or use drugs or ride in a vehicle operated by someone under the influence.

Follow applicable graduated licensing laws that limit the number of passengers.

Don’t be distracted by cell phones, iPods and loud music.

Tell parents where you’re going and when you expect to return.

Budget enough travel time. Call to let parents know you’re running late instead of speeding and risking an accident to make up time.

Obey the nighttime driving curfew.

Also discuss the consequences if the rules are broken. These could include loss of driving privileges and paying fines or repair costs. Both parents and teen should sign and date the contract.

“Laws help teens drive safely, but parents can help ensure their kids obey them,” says Valinotti. “You can set a good example when you’re driving and set appropriate limits to ensure safe driving.”

Safety leads to savings

Following traffic laws and avoiding citations also help keep insurance rates down. Your teen’s insurance will increase—even double or triple—if he is ticketed for driving under the influence. General Casualty, Unigard and other providers offer savings of 10 to 20 percent if your child gets good grades and maintains a “B” or 3.0 grade point average (on a 4.0 scale).

If your child is involved in an accident that damages your car, your insurance rates could increase and end up costing more than the repairs, so keep this in mind when reporting a fender bender. If you can afford to pay for the repairs yourself instead of reporting the claim, you may save money in the long run.

Courtesy of ARA Content

from the April 25-May 1, 2007, issue

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