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'90's FAMILY

Driving Parents Crazy

Yikes! Your teen has hit the age of begging to get behind the wheel. With all the frightening statistics about adolescent drivers (not to mention the expense), moms and dads would be wise to help their kids practice their skills before they hit the road on their own.

May 18, 1997|KATHLEEN O. RYAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Teenage drivers make up a small fraction--only 3.8%--of California's driving population, yet they rack up some daunting statistics:

* Sixteen-year-olds have seven times as many car accidents as 24-year-olds.

* Teen car accidents are 2 1/2 times more likely to be fatal or injury accidents.

* Teens speed more and wear seat belts less than adults.

* Teens get twice as many tickets as adults.

* Car crashes are the No. 1 killer of teens in the United States.

It's these facts that frighten parents the most, but they are not the only concerns about putting a teen on the road.

There's the cost of driving school, sky-high insurance premiums and all those scary ride-alongs in which parents gasp and hit imaginary brakes while their inexperienced child maneuvers the roadways. Is it all worth it?

Most teens think so and many of their parents would agree.

"It's nerve-racking," says Arlene Gold of Calabasas, whose two sons, ages 17 and 19, drive. "I worry when they are even five minutes late, but I did look forward to having my children drive. In fact when they're with their friends we prefer they drive because we know their driving habits."

But Gold's younger son, Brad, says he and his friends often fight about who will drive because no one wants to. "Driving gives you a lot of freedom, but no one wants the responsibly," he says.

Sixteen-year-old Marisa Edwards of Los Angeles agrees. She's had a learner's permit for more than a year and on May 27 will take the Department of Motor Vehicles' driving test, which she didn't feel ready for when she turned 16 in January

"Driving hasn't been a priority for me," Marisa says. "I was nervous. The truth is I really don't like to drive."

Not so her older brother, Marc, who was so anxious to get his license that he counted down the days to his 16th birthday. On that day, he missed school to take the earliest appointment available for his driving test. "Getting rides is a pain," says the 19-year-old. "Driving makes me feel independent. It's also a responsibility I enjoy because it takes such a load off my parents."

California DMV records show that the number of those receiving driver's licenses in the teenage years has dropped. Boys continue to get their licenses sooner than girls. Yet, Marc and Marisa say most teens they know anticipate getting behind the wheel when they turn 15 and promptly get their licenses shortly after their 16th birthday.

The process can be time-consuming and expensive.

Public schools rarely offer driver's education anymore. The cost of private driving instruction ranges between $150 and $300. Students can begin the required 30 hours of classwork at age 15, then take a test and apply for a learner's permit when they are 15 1/2. Passing the 48-question written test allows them to complete their driving training, which entails six hours of behind-the-wheel instruction from a certified instructor. Once teens have a learner's permit for 30 days, turn 16 years old and can pass the driving test, they can be licensed. A driver's license costs $15.

A new delegated testing program allows certain driving schools listed with the DMV to not only offer driver training, but also to give the driving test for licenses.

While it is recommended that parents ride with their children to supervise extra practice while they have their learner's permits, it is not required. Canoga Park DMV licensing examiner Laura Fair says parents need to spend much more time than they do. "Teens need lots of experience in a variety of driving situations, including busy streets and freeway traffic. You can really tell the parents who took the time with their teens on the road. These are the one who pass the test."

The driving test failure rate stands at 35%, up from 25% three years ago. The test now includes freeway and business district driving, not just suburban neighborhoods. The test lasts 25 minutes as opposed to the 10-minute test given three years ago. Fair says examiners are looking not only for observation of the vehicle codes, but good driving habits.

*

With the license comes a change in the price of the family's car insurance. Lack of experience, lack of a driving record and teen statistics make teenagers the most expensive drivers to insure, says Jim Armitage, spokesman for Insurance Brokers and Agents of the West. Premiums for a family with a teen driver can cost several thousand dollars a year after factoring in ZIP code, vehicle type and miles per year driven.

Insuring teenage boys costs a few hundred dollars more than girls because boys are three times more likely to be involved in an accident and twice as likely to get a ticket. Armitage says a ticket resulting in one point on a driving record increases insurance costs by 10%. A teen found at fault in an accident becomes classified as a high-risk driver, which can double the premium.

But with many companies, teens can save on insurance costs upfront with good grades, Armitage says. "There is a discount for maintaining a B average or better."

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