The phrase “learner’s permit” almost invariably brings young drivers to mind, but adults over age 21 are considered to be learner drivers, too, if they’ve never had a driver’s license. Learners are more likely to be involved in car accidents at any age, but teens are four times more likely than drivers over age 20, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. They can be held responsible for causing the accident if they're found to be at fault, and they can be liable for medical bills, damage, and other losses. They need auto insurance just as much as any other driver.
Permits for learning drivers go by a variety of names in different states. “Learner’s permit” is common, but so is “provisional driver’s license.” By any name, they’re subject to some strict rules.
Learner’s Permit vs. Driver’s License
Every state requires that inexperienced teenage (first-time) drivers who have never before held a license to drive must pass through the permit stage first before they qualify for a driver’s license. However, adult learners can skip over the permit stage in some states and go directly to taking a driving test to qualify for a license.
Teenagers must reach a certain age to get a learner's permit, usually 15½ or 16 years old. They must have a licensed driver in the passenger seat beside them, and some states require that the passenger be at least 25 years old, although some states allow teenagers to drive back and forth to work without a supervising driver.
Hour restrictions can apply as well. For example, permit drivers can’t take the wheel between midnight and 5 a.m. in Arizona, according to AutoInsurance.org. And they can’t use cellphones for any reason in 37 states and the District of Columbia. The number of passengers in the car other than a licensed driver can be limited as well.
Insuring the Learner: Add On to a Policy
Teenaged learners can usually be added to their parents’ car insurance policies, provided they’re driving the family car or one that’s co-owned by a parent. In fact, they might even be automatically covered on your existing policy if they’re driving with you and with your permission. It depends on the insurer.
Some insurance companies require that the teenager must live with you and be a member of your household to be automatically covered for learner driver insurance on your vehicle. College students up to age 25 can be exempt from this rule if they’re living away from home on campus, as long as their parent’s home is considered to be their primary residence.
Notify your insurer that your teenager is going to be taking the wheel so you can find out what provisions and requirements they have in place for learners. You might have to officially add your learner to your policy, or it might be an automatic provision. And keep in mind that the automatic provision is just a short-term arrangement. You must add your teenage driver to your policy when they graduate to a real driver’s license if they're a member of your household with regular access to your vehicle.
Insurance "Follows" the Car
Insurance also usually “follows” the car owner’s vehicle. You’re insuring the car, not necessarily the individual behind the wheel. You’d be covered if you gave your friend or your housekeeper your car keys to run an errand for you and they’re subsequently involved in an accident. But don't assume this is the case with your learner driver. Check with your insurance provider.
Get the Learner Their Own Policy
Another option would be to get your learning driver their own policy. In fact, this is generally required if you buy them their own car – or if they buy their own – and the car is titled only in their name. Your existing car insurance probably won’t stretch to cover this, even if the driver is operating the vehicle under a learner’s permit.
Your insurer might also require that your teen driver have their own policy if they’re going to be driving your vehicle on a regular basis, such as to school every day or to work, or if they’re taking your vehicle to college with them instead of just driving it when they’re home on holidays.
How Much Will This Cost?
Costs to insure your learning driver can vary considerably, depending how you go about covering them. Some insurers automatically cover your teen for free, or for only a minimal increase in your premiums, assuming you’re the one who’s in the car with them and supervising their driving.
If you have to officially add them to your policy, there might be a significant increase in your premium. How much can depend on your teenager’s gender, as adding a male can double your premium. Adding a female can push it up 50 percent, according to statistics quoted by Nationwide. According to AutoInsurance.org, premiums rise 14 percent more for boys under the age of 20 than for girls of the same age, but it can vary by state.
Adding your teen driver to your policy is nonetheless going to cost much less than getting them their own policy. AutoInsurance.org indicates that the average teen driver pays $189 per month for their own policy as of 2020 – and this is just liability coverage. It won’t cover damage to or loss of your vehicle. Progressive indicates that their rates drop by about 13 percent when a young driver reaches age 19, and by an additional 7 percent when they turn 21.
The bottom line is that learning drivers have less experience behind the wheel, and lack of maturity can contribute at least a degree of recklessness.
Read More: Why Do Boys Pay More for Auto Insurance Than Girls?
Ways to Reduce Your Premiums
There are options for keeping your premiums manageable when your young driver gets their learner’s permit. Some insurers offer discounts if your new driver successfully completes a driver’s training course in addition to driving around with you. Some, like Progressive and State Farm, offer their own courses that your young driver can complete.
Discounts for good grades are also pretty common. That 3.9 grade point average could save you some bucks.
What vehicle your learner is driving can have a significant impact on your premiums, just as it does with older, experienced drivers. The more your car is worth, the more it costs to insure it, so turning over the keys to your souped-up sports car to your teenager is inevitably going to push your premiums sky high. The National Association of Insurance Commissioners publishes an annual list of the safest new and used cars for teen drivers.
Of course, you might want to increase the liability coverage on your vehicle to protect yourself and your financial health if you’re adding a new, learning driver to your policy, even though it may offset any discounts you got for the good grades or training course. And keep in mind that your insurance will unfortunately increase each time you have to make a claim. In fact, some insurers even offer a “no claims bonus.”
- Allstate: My Teen Got a Learner’s Permit. Does He Need Car Insurance?
- Nationwide: Do You Need Insurance With a Learner’s Permit?
- AutoInsurance.org: Learner’s Permit Insurance (Guide + Money-Saving Tips)
- Plymouth Rock Assurance: Car Insurance When You Have a Learner’s Permit in Connecticut
- Progressive: Adding a Teen Driver to Your Car Insurance
- Insurance Institute for Highway Safety: Teenagers
- National Institutes of Health. "Teen Crash Risk Highest During First Three Months After Getting Driver’s License." Accessed Sept. 21, 2020.
- Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. "Graduated Licensing Laws by State." Accessed Sept. 21, 2020.
- American Family Insurance. "Does Car Insurance Cover Other Drivers?" Accessed Sept. 21, 2020.
- State Farm. "Car Insurance for Teens and New Drivers." Accessed Sept. 21, 2020.
- Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. "Teenagers." Accessed Sept. 21, 2020.
Beverly Bird has been writing professionally for over 30 years. She is also a paralegal, specializing in areas of personal finance, bankruptcy and estate law. She writes as the tax expert for The Balance.