More than one-quarter of parents surveyed said they don't enforce all teen driving laws for their children. That may put their teen drivers at risk. Traffic safety experts credit graduated driver licensing (GDL) laws for lower teen driver fatality rates over the past two decades.

We surveyed 450 parents of teen drivers to determine whether they enforce GDL laws, which GDL laws they enforce and other car-related questions. GDL laws restrict young drivers, such as limiting the time of day and who's in the vehicle with teen drivers.

Despite fewer teen driver fatalities than in the 1990s, car crashes remain the number one killer of teens in the U.S. Teens are also the highest crash risk of any age group. Insurance companies view teens as riskier drivers, so they charge higher premiums when adding a teen to your policy.

Insure.com found that adding a teen to your policy increases premiums by an average of 161%. That's a $2,328 annual increase on average.

Are parents enforcing GDL laws?

Insure.com found that more parents say they’re enforcing GDL laws than last year.

Seventy-three percent said they always enforce GDL laws. That’s a 10-point increase from our 2020 survey. The 26% of parents who don’t consistently enforce GDL laws were split between saying they never enforce them, sometimes don’t enforce them or don’t know the laws.

Here’s how the 2021 survey results compared to the same survey question in previous years:

Did you or are you enforcing your state's graduated driver's license laws for teen drivers?

2021202020192018
Yes, always73%63%69%78%
Sometimes9%13%17%17%
No8%23%14%5%
I'm not sure. I don't remember all new driver restrictions.9%------

Unlike in previous surveys, we found that dads are doing a better job enforcing GDL laws. Seventh-six percent of fathers and 71% of mothers say they consistently enforce GDL laws.

Last year, only 58% of Dads said they always enforce the laws and 64% said the same in 2019. Enforcement by Moms was 68% in 2020 and 73% in 2019.

The biggest difference this year was the percentage of mothers who said they don’t remember the GDL restrictions, so they’re not sure if they’re enforcing them. Fifteen percent of mothers said they’re not sure. That's compared to just 4% of fathers.

Here are this year’s results by gender:

As the parent of a teen driver, did you enforce or are you enforcing your state’s graduated driver’s license (GDL) laws?

FemaleMale
Yes, always71%76%
Sometimes6%12%
No8%8%
I'm not sure. I don't remember all the new driver restrictions.15%4%

Why parents aren’t enforcing GDL laws

Why wouldn't parents consistently enforce laws meant to protect their children? The number one reason is that they don’t know GDL laws.

Here are the results compared to previous years:

Why do you sometimes or never enforce the GDL laws/requirements?

2021202020192018
I am not aware of the GDL laws40%48%45%29%
I try to but it's too difficult because my teen doesn't always listen to me21%12%14%33%
I don't think they're necessary15%13%9%6%
I pick and choose the laws I think my child should follow13%8%18%23%
My teen's friends always need transportation and it's hard to say no13%11%12%20%
I don't think the GDL laws are fair6%7%18%25%

Time restrictions, cellphone ban are top GDL laws being broken

 

Time restrictions and cell phone use while driving are the GDL laws that parents don’t enforce the most with their teen drivers. These are the same top responses as the 2020 survey.

Which GDL laws do you sometimes or never enforce for your teen driver?

2021202020192018
Time restrictions29%35%35%36%
Use of cell phone ban28%25%32%49%
Passenger restriction24%22%28%45%
Hours of supervised practice (as in fudge the numbers)24%21%17%18%
Allow teen to drive alone though not allowed18%14%6%7%
Use of other electronic devices ban15%15%15%30%

If parents don’t always enforce GDL laws, that must mean they're confident in their children's driving, right? Not exactly.

We asked parents about their teen's worst driving habits. Parents pointed to these five as the most significant problems:

  • Texting while driving
  • Speeding
  • Not wearing seatbelt
  • Backing up
  • Distracted driving
  • Parallel parking

Time spent training teen drivers

One way to get your teen driver ready for the road is to train them properly.

The survey found nearly as many parents spent at least 21 hours of driver training with their children as those who spent less than five hours in training.

Twenty-eight percent of parents (including 42% of mothers) said they spent at least 21 hours teaching their teens to drive. On the other end, 25% said less than five hours were spent on the road for training because the teen didn’t need much instruction. That includes 32% of fathers.

Do parents text while driving with their teens in the car?

Parents don’t always model stellar behavior behind the wheel.

We found the percentage of parents who say they never text with their teens in the car dropped this year. Also, the percentage who said they frequently text with their children in the vehicle skyrocketed.

Here are the results:

  • 39% said they never text with their teens in the vehicle (down from 58% in 2020)
  • 24% said they frequently text (up from 4% in 2020)
  • 22% said they sometimes text when they feel they can still do it safely (up from 10% in 2020)
  • 16% said they hardly text, just a few times when it was necessary (down from 28% in 2020)

Fathers are more apt to text with children in the car. Thirty-seven percent of dads said they frequently text with their teens in the car. That’s compared to just 11% of moms.

Fifty-four percent of mothers and 24% of fathers said they never text with their children in the car.

Parents plan to put limits on older teens

Some parents don't always enforce GDL laws, but many parents said they plan to limit their teen's driving after they're fully licensed and no longer restricted by GDL laws.

That decision could be critical. The Governors Highway Safety Association (GSHA) estimated that older teens are twice as likely to be involved in a fatal crash between midnight and 6 a.m. than younger teens. GSHA said expanding GDL laws to older teens could help reduce that sobering statistic.

Our survey found that most parents said they plan to continue restricting their teen drivers even after they're fully licensed. More than four out of 10 parents expect to limit:

  • Cell phone use while driving
  • Late-night driving
  • The number of friends riding with the teen

Safety features in teen cars

A vast majority of parents said a car's safety features influenced a car purchase for their teen. The survey found 80% of parents said it played at least a part in the choice, with 64% saying safety was the most critical feature.

Dads are especially concerned about a car’s safety features. Eighty-seven percent of fathers said a car’s safety features influenced their car-buying for a teen -- compared to 71% of mothers.

Car manufacturers are constantly updating their vehicles’ safety features. Electronic stability control and accident avoidance have become fairly common features in recent years.

Parents said the top safety features they’d like for their teens are blind-spot detectors and cars that stop at all stop signs and red lights automatically.  

Driverless cars for teen drivers?

Driverless cars may soon become a more common feature in vehicles. However, not all parents are sold on them for their teens.

More than half of parents surveyed said they would like a driverless car for their teen -- though some said they would worry if their child had to take over the vehicle.

Here are the results about whether they would want a driverless car for their teen:

  • Yes, a driverless car is better than a teen driver -- 38%
  • No, I don’t believe a driverless car would be safe enough for my child -- 24%
  • No, I fear my child could not take over if needed due to lack of real driving experience-- 20%
  • Yes, though I would worry if teen had to take over -- 18%

Fathers are much bigger fans of driverless cars than mothers. Slightly more than half of fathers said a driverless car is better than a teen driver. Only 21% of mothers agree.

More than half of moms said either driverless cars aren’t safe enough for their child or they fear the teen driver doesn't have the experience to take over the driverless vehicle if needed.

What vehicles do teens drive?

The survey found that most teens drive the family car. Slightly more than one-third own their own vehicle.

Parents said the most common type of teen vehicle is the family sedan:

  • Family sedan -- 56% (up from 37% in 2020)
  • SUV/crossover -- 22% (down from 30% in 2020)
  • Coupe -- 12% (down from 16% in 2020)
  • Truck -- 4% (down from 6% in 2020)
  • Sports car -- 4% (down from 5% in 2020)
  • Minivan -- 1% (down from 5% in 2020)

Thirty-nine percent of respondents said their child drives a used vehicle that's 10 years old or more. Twenty-one percent said their teens drive a car that’s between five and 10 years old. Nineteen percent said their children operate a car between one and five years old. Eighteen percent of respondents said their children drive a new car.

If you’re looking to buy a used car for your young driver, review our used car average rate tool to see what you can expect to pay for 1,700 models. You can compare vehicles side by side.

Tips for saving on teen car insurance

Teen drivers are considered a higher risk because of their driving inexperience and youth. Insurance companies charge more when you add your teen to your policy. How much more depends on your location, the amount and cost of claims, driving record and type of car.

The good news is there are ways for parents to limit the cost of adding a teen to a policy. You may even find cheap car insurance for your teen. Here are three ways to limit the increase:

  • Add the teen to the least expensive car on your policy.
  • Ask your insurer about discounts, such as good student and driving training.
  • Talk to your insurance company about whether they offer a program to monitor your teen's driving. Some companies have devices that you can plug into the vehicle to track driving behaviors. You can get a discount for adding that to a car, too.

“A telematics device that monitors your child’s driving may not only give you a discount but allows you to be aware of your teen’s behavior behind the wheel,” notes Penny Gusner, Insure.com’s senior consumer analyst. “Parents can see what the novice driver may need to work on, such as learning not to brake so hard or speed and how responsible the teen is when mom or dad isn’t in the car.”

An Insurance Research Council survey found that 56% of those surveyed said they made changes in their driving behavior after installing a telematics device and reviewing insurer feedback. Over 80% said that the information provided by the insurance company was helpful.

Having a teen driver in your household can be stressful and costly. By being a good driving role model, including putting down the phone and teaching them the rules of the road, you can set your teen on the avenue to safe driving.

  • Methodology

    Insure.com commissioned Op4g to field an online survey of 450 parents of teen drivers in March 2021.