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The high cost of putting your teen behind the wheel

Getting a driver's license and behind the wheel of a car is a teenage rite of passage. Unfortunately for parents, it's not one that comes cheaply.

Adding a teenager to a married couple's insurance policy will drive up their insurance costs by about 79 percent, according to a new report from That's because drivers between 16 to 19 years old are three times more likely than those over 20 years old to be in a fatal crash, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Some parents, seeking to defray the higher insurance rates, may look to buy cheaper cars for their teens, but an industry group says that strategy isn't safe. That's because teens involved in fatal accidents are more likely to be driving older, unsafe cars. Choosing more recent cars with safety features such as electronic stability control may also help lower insurance rates, since insurers consider safety ratings of cars when pricing rates.

"Cars with better safety ratings will get better rates," senior analyst Laura Adams told CBS MoneyWatch. "A lot of parents think, 'We'll just get our teen a junker car,' but it won't save you money on insurance."

And on top of that are the safety issues, with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety warning that many teens aren't driving vehicles with good crash protection. The group has put together a list of recommended used vehicles for teens that meet the group's safety criteria.

About 43 percent of parents purchase a car for their children about the time they begin driving, the IIHS notes. More than one-half of those purchased cars are models from 2006 or earlier, which the safety group said is a problem because many of those cars lack side airbags and electronic stability control.

The good news for parents is that insurance rates for teens has actually declined from a year ago, when a married couple faced an insurance rate increase of 85 percent for adding a teen to their coverage.

What's behind the rate decline? Fewer teens are getting licenses, a trend that might be linked to the high unemployment rate among young people, who have less money to spend on cars -- and if their parents are also struggling amid the grindingly slow recovery.

Only 31 percent of 16-year-olds had licenses in 2008, compared with 46 percent in 1983, according to research from the University of Michigan.

Depending on which state you live in, you could also pay more for adding a teen to your insurance. The most expensive state is New Hampshire, where premiums jump by 111 percent for adding a teen. The next most expensive states are Rhode Island and Maine, where rates will jump by 107 percent each, the report says.

The least expensive state for adding a teen is Hawaii, where insurers are prohibited from using age, gender or length of driving experience to determine rates. Adding a teen there increases rates by only 17 percent.

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