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Farmers Tries to Take Auto Safety Home : Insurance: Discounts of up to 30% are offered for youths who take a course with parents. Program debuts in California today.


In a novel effort to reduce death and destruction involving young drivers, Farmers Insurance Group has begun offering auto insurance discounts of up to 30% to youths who complete a company-devised safety course with their parents.

The program, being rolled out in California today after testing in Oregon and Illinois, differs from other driver education discount plans in that the one-hour course is presented by Farmers agents in customers' homes and requires parents and children to agree on family driving rules and penalties for breaking them.

"This program looks promising because it triggers a family discussion that might otherwise not take place," said Chuck Hurley of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, an industry group best known for campaigning for mandatory vehicle air bags.

"It explains the realities of crashes to kids--including the economic realities," Hurley said.

Los Angeles-based Farmers, California's second-largest auto insurer, said the program is aimed at the children of existing customers. Spokesman John C. Millen estimated that half the 260,000 drivers ages 16 to 24 insured by Farmers in California will be eligible.

To qualify for a 20% discount, a youth must have a clean driving record, may not drive a "high-performance" car and must have all family vehicles insured by Farmers Group companies. A family with Farmers' top-of-the-line policy gets a 30% discount. Farmers' premiums for youths average about $1,500 a year, Millen said.

The course includes a nine-minute video and 15-page workbook detailing such risk factors as alcohol, drugs and high speed. It also provides accident statistics (5,213 teen-agers killed on U.S. highways last year) and shows how sharply a poor driving record can boost insurance premiums.

Together, the parents and young drivers are asked to discuss family rules and penalties covering such things as getting a speeding ticket, being involved in an accident and driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The specifics are up to each family; Farmers said it is mainly interested in having the discussion take place and has no plans to monitor enforcement.

The course has been presented in California for the last year, but the discounts could not take effect until the Department of Insurance approved them last month.

Ben Peralta, a Farmers agent in San Jose, said the program worked remarkably for two of his customers, a woman and her teen-age son.

In one workbook exercise, the young driver is asked to list five friends and select the two most likely to have an accident or get a traffic ticket. With his mother looking on, the youth picked a friend nicknamed Inky as one of the candidates for trouble.

When Peralta happened to see the mother a few weeks later, she told him that based on the exercise, she'd refused to let her son join Inky on a ride to Santa Cruz. Inky went ahead anyway, but the trip ended badly when he flipped his pickup truck and broke his wrist.

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