Online Auto Insurance: Stronger Laws Boost Safe Teen Driving, Study Says

April 24, 2012 (PRLEAP.COM) Business News
A second State Farm–commissioned study released this month ties teen safety behind the wheel to the laws of the road where that teen drives, a reality that Online Auto Insurance says highlights the need for parents to know their roadway laws and possible shortfalls of those laws before handing the keys to their newly licensed driver.

The study, conducted by the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) and published in the American Journal of Public Health, analyzed a sample of 3,126 high-school-aged drivers from across the U.S. and found that those who lived in states with heavier enforcement of seat belt laws wore them more often. Researchers also linked stronger seat belt use in states with heavier enforcement to stricter graduated driver's license (GDL) processes.

Parents looking for auto insurance quotes online often find a scant selection of low rates for their new teen drivers. That's because a large pile of research on issues from seat belt use to distracted driving links teens to hazardous roadway habits, leading insurers to respond with higher insurance premiums. For example, federal research shows that teens are known to be the age group least likely to wear seat belts, which cut the risk of fatal injuries in crashes by 45 percent.


But the law can curb bad habits, according to CHOP researchers, especially in places where seat belt laws are backed by primary enforcement that allows police to stop a driver suspected of not wearing a seat belt and issue a citation. Secondary enforcement requires police to issue a seat belt citation only when they have pulled over a driver for a separate violation. Thirty two states in the U.S. have primary seat belt laws while 17 states have secondary enforcement, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. (New Hampshire has no law regarding seat belt use.)

The CHOP study concluded that young drivers in states with primary seat belt laws were 12 percent more likely to buckle up as drivers and 15 percent more likely to buckle up as passengers, compared with teenagers driving in states with looser secondary seat belt laws. 

"This study suggests that if state laws don't reinforce the importance of seat belt use, teens may be less motivated to buckle up and are placed at much higher risk of being injured or killed in a crash," co-author Dennis Durbin said in a statement.

Researchers also found that, while the rate of seat belt use of teens held steady as they got their learner's permit, it fell a significant 13 percent in states with secondary enforcement once that teen became fully licensed. Meanwhile, teens in primary enforcement states reported wearing their seat belts at the same rate as they finished their GDL process and obtained an unrestricted license. "The long-term effectiveness" of a state's seat belt law shows itself in that state's GDL, researchers said.

A few citations for not wearing seat belts don't show up on a driver's record in a way that can inflate their insurance premium but, with each state fining its own amount for the violation, costs can add up quickly. For instance, California, Louisiana, New York and Arizona have $100 first-time fines, while South Carolina has a $150 fine.

Wearing a seat belt at all times also can significantly reduce the severity of injuries in a crash, which can help families maintain their lifestyles after an accident while also saving them and insurance companies money on pricey hospital bills.

OAI recommends that parents both be good examples of safe driving themselves and be aware of their state's seat belt laws and GDL process. Doing so can not only save on car and insurance costs but can also save the teen's life. Another study from CHOP and State Farm found that states reduced fatalities in teen-related crashes when implementing more comprehensive GDL provisions.

Researchers in the latest study agree.

"Parents play an important role in making sure their kids always wear a seat belt, whether or not their state has a strong seat belt law," Durbin stated. "They should start by setting the example of always wearing a seat belt as a passenger and as a driver, and remind their teen that they and their passengers need to be wearing seat belts on every trip-no matter how short-in order to keep their driving privileges."

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