It’s expensive and dangerous, too.

A teen may be thinking “ sporty” but remember, sports cars are built to drive fast and are not the best choice for a new driver. A mid-size sedan may be the safer choice. You can review crash ratings at the web site of the Institute For Highway Safety and Highway Loss Institute, www.hwysafety.org.

Cars with built-in safety features will be given discounted rates with most insurance companies, especially if they have favorable crash ratios.

Parents of teens beware: a recent study shows that putting a new teen driver behind the wheel is expensive, dangerous and for many it can be deadly. The Insurance Information Institute reports in April 2004 that motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among the 15-20 year olds but there are steps you can take to reduce costs and risks.

A typical family will spend an estimated $7,000 in the first year to put a new driver on the road and over $20,000 total during the first three years of teen driving. Should your teen be the one in every three to suffer a crash the first year on the road, expect second-year costs to climb to $8,300 or more, and $25,000 from ages 16-18.*

Adding a teen to an existing insurance policy increases costs by 50 percent to 100 percent. A typical family paying $1,824 per year to insure two vehicles would see its premium climb to $2,888 by adding a young driver with a clean driving record as an occasional driver on one of the parents’ vehicles. If the teen driver has her own car, the premium would rise to $4,361 – a 250 percent increase.

Insurance costs are only part of teen drivers’ hefty tab. The economic cost of teen driver crashes tops $40 billion a year.

Besides being costly, putting a new driver on the road also is dangerous, with motor vehicle crashes the leading cause of death among 15-20 year olds, whose overall crash rate is four times higher than older drivers and peaks at age 16.

“The cost absolutely shocks parents of new drivers, but there is a good reason why it’s so expensive. The risks are very high,” said Paul Burris, Drive for Life’s chairman. “Driving is a learned skill and learning comes over time with experience. Combine that inexperience with other adolescent traits, such as thrill-seeking, socializing, susceptibility to distractions and feelings of invulnerability, and you have a potent set of risks.”

Burris said parents should put strict limits on the driving privilege and expand it gradually, giving teens lots of opportunity to practice driving with an older, experienced driver onboard. That is particularly important during “The 101 Deadliest Days on the Road,” the period from Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day when teen injuries and deaths due to motor vehicle crashes peak.

Drive for Life advises parents and teen drivers to adopt safety strategies that can cut costs:

  • Insist on seat belt usage.
    According to 2003 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data, two-thirds of teens killed in motor vehicle crashes were not wearing seat belts. Among those who were drinking and killed in crashes, 77 percent were unrestrained.
  • Limit night driving.
    Forty-one percent of teen motor vehicle deaths occur between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. Teens should limit their night driving until they gain more experience, yet parents often extend the privilege with few restrictions once school is out. A 2003 survey found nearly half of all teens drive at night during the summer, compared to 6 percent during the school year. At a minimum, teens with a restricted license should drive with a parent in the car at least 20 hours during night time conditions and this driving should be near the end of their restricted driving experience.
  • Extend the driving privilege gradually.
    Teens should log at least 100 hours of supervised driving before going out solo. Many states have graduated licensing programs that allow teens to gradually receive full driving privileges. One hundred hours of driving experience for the year is about 20 minutes of parent supervised driving each day. Compared to older drivers, crashes of 16-year-old drivers are far more likely to involve driver error and speeding.
  • Limit passengers.
    One passenger increases the chance of a teen crash by 40 percent; two or more passengers pushes the rate to nearly 70 percent, according to the Insurance Information Institute.
  • Buy a vehicle with a good crash rating.
    Vehicular rates for insurance are based on many features such as average repair cost, damageability and how well the occupants are protected during a crash.
  • Buy a vehicle with anti-lock brakes.
    Safety features also are accounted for in insurance rates and many insurance companies offer premium discounts for safety features such as anti-lock brakes, air bags and anti-theft devices.
  • Mandate driver training courses.
    Reading the driver’s handbook and taking the test isnot enough. In addition to the obvious safety benefits of driver training, some insurance companies offer premium discounts when teens complete driver-safety courses that include requirements for a certain number of supervised driving hours.
  • Insist on academic performance.
    Insurance companies realize that academic achievement and discipline translate into more focused and studious drivers. Most insurance companies offer premium discounts of about 10 percent for teen drivers who achieve a B average or better.
  • Impose clear and unequivocal
    consequences for drinking and driving
    Have a designated friend or family member your child can call if he or she has been drinking and needs a ride. One in four teens killed in motor vehicle crashes met the legal standard for intoxication in 2002. A 2003 study of more than 1,500 teens found nearly half said they had driven with a drunk driver in the past year.

* Estimate assumes a 2000 model subcompact car, financed over three years, $200 for vehicle title, tag and registration and a driver’s license; insurance premiums of $2,537, maintenance costs of $580, gasoline expenses of $1,160; annual mileage of 14,500.