Updated: March 2017
Q: My teen driver doesn't have his own car. Do I still need to add him to the family's insurance policy? When's the right time to do that?
A: Laws in every state can be a little different, says Mike Tiffany, an Allstate agency owner in Kansas City, Missouri. In some cases, you may be able to add a teen with a learner's permit to a policy. "But in the states where I'm licensed, we can't add someone to a policy until they actually have a driver's license," Tiffany says.
Check with your local agent to find out about the proper timing, and to help make sure you're mitigating your risks properly, Tiffany advises — regardless of whether your teen has his own car.
"If you think about it, every time you put that teen behind the wheel [of any vehicle], you're trusting that teen with the assets of the family," he says, "because their liability as a driver falls back on the family."
In fact, insuring your teen is typically required by law (once they are licensed). Most states require drivers to have auto liability insurance before they can legally drive, according to the Insurance Information Institute (III).
The student driver is covered by his/her parents' policy as a household member. Once he/she gets a license, he/she would generally then need be listed as an operator on the policy.
Of course, cost is always a concern when it comes to teen drivers. Insurance rates are based on how likely a driver is (statistically) to get in a crash, says the III and, unfortunately, teen drivers don't have the numbers on their side.
As a group, teens pose a higher risk of accidents than more experienced drivers, the III says.
"It's true, when you add a teen, it's not always the best for the pocketbook," says Tiffany. But, there are a few things that you can do in advance that might help mitigate those costs.
"There are often discounts for completing a certified safe driving course, and you may be able to obtain a good student discount if your child is keeping up his grades," Tiffany says.
Fitting your vehicle with a telematics device, which measures how well you drive, can also be a way to help offset the costs. And, Tiffany says, it can also have the added benefit of helping to open a dialogue about safe driving between parents and teens.
"You can go to the [telematics] website, get a rating on the driving, and then say, 'Let's talk about this recent trip you took,'" says Tiffany. "It can be a good way for a teen to understand what they need to work on without feeling frustrated — and without the negative experience of an accident."
Of course, you don't have to wait until your teen is licensed before you begin discussions about safe driving, Tiffany says.
"If you're a parent of a teen who's even thinking about driving, it's time to start explaining what you're doing as you're driving, and trying to develop your teen's thought patterns before they're actually learning how to drive, when everything is coming at them at once," he says.
Learning to drive now is obviously different than it was in the past, Tiffany says, because — from cell phones to app-enabled dashboards — there are more distractions than ever before.
"It takes a lot of focus and a lot of cautious concern to make decisions, prevent mishaps and to properly operate a vehicle," he says. "It's up to parents, with some help from insurance agents, to talk to their teen drivers and do everything they can to make sure the next generation is focused on the roads."