by JOSEPH B. WHITE and ANJALI ATHAVALEY, May 5, 2010 -- Some big auto insurers are raising the rates they charge to cover teenage girls, reflecting the crumbling of conventional wisdom that young women are more responsible behind the wheel.
In a survey of teenage drivers, Allstate Insurance Co. found that 48% of girls said they are likely to drive 10 miles per hour over the speed limit. By comparison, 36% of the boys admitted to speeding. Of the girls, 16% characterized their own driving as aggressive, up from 9% in 2005. And just over half of the girls said they are likely to drive while talking on a phone or texting, compared to 38% of the boys..
The results were "a surprise to many people," says Meghann Dowd of the Allstate Foundation, an independent charitable organization funded by Allstate which sponsored the survey.
While teens fessed up about their own bad behavior, they also said their friends drive even worse. The study found that 65% of the respondents, male and female, said they are confident in their own driving skills, but 77% said they had felt unsafe when another teen was driving. Only 23% of teens agree that most teens are good drivers. This suggests teens recognize in their friends the dubious and dangerous behavior they won't admit to indulging in themselves.
A new Allstate survey combats the thinking that girls are safer drivers than boys. Among the findings:
Source: Allstate Foundation
The data was gleaned from online interviews with 1,063 teens across the country. It was conducted in May 2009 for the Allstate Foundation by the TRU division of TNS Custom Research Inc., a Chicago-based youth research and marketing firm. (For highlights of the study, see www.allstate.com/foundation/teen-driving/Shifting-Teen-Attitudes.aspx).
The survey relies on what teens report about themselves, and Allstate Foundation spokeswoman Meghann Dowd says that means the results could be affected by how forthcoming individuals are when answering the survey questions.
The study is a successor to a 2005 Allstate survey that also raised alarms about teenage driving, and suggested that the physiology of young brains made teens more resistant to the messages of conventional safe driving programs.
At Allstate, the new survey has prompted questions about whether the narrowing of the bad driving gender gap reflects something bigger about the way girls view themselves and their aspirations. Young women "are taking on more risks in all aspects of their lives," says Stacy Sharpe, Allstate's assistant vice president for federal affairs. Some psychologists and others who work with teenage girls say aggressive driving may be part of an overall shift toward greater assertiveness by young women, as they make big strides in everything from academics to sports.
Allstate says it won't use the new survey data to set rates for teens. Instead, rates are set based on claims experience and other factors. The company uses the survey results in its efforts to promote safer driving by teens.
But Allstate does say that rates for teenage girls and boys are more similar than in years past: "It would be fair to say the gap is closing," says spokesman Raleigh Floyd.
Still, teenage girls continue to be a better risk than boys, according to Allstate's claims data, he says.
State Farm, the nation's largest insurance company, says that currently its auto coverage premiums for teenage boys are about 40% higher than for girls. In 1985, that gap was about 61%, says Vicki Harper, a spokeswoman for State Farm, which has more than 42 million auto policies. Most girls still get a break on premiums, she says, but "their premium rates reflect there isn't as much of a difference as the rate for a teenage boy."
Indeed, a search for a quote Tuesday on Progressive Direct Insurance Co.'s website for two hypothetical 19-year-old drivers (one male and one female) whose choice of car, personal details (including a speeding ticket within the past three years) and coverage limits were the same, yielded prices that were very close: The girl was quoted $2,627 for six months of coverage. The boy would have paid $2,938 for six months.
Car accidents are the leading cause of death for U.S. teenagers, according to government statistics. But accident rates have plummeted in recent years, even as the proliferation of digital devices has added a huge new source of distractions.
Overall, the U.S. Department of Transportation says 4,054 teenagers aged 13 to 19 died in auto accidents (as both passengers and drivers) in 2008, down 54% from 1975. Boys account for about two-thirds of teens killed in vehicle accidents, but the DOT says fatalities among boys have declined 59% since 1975, faster than the 38% decline for girls.
Driver education instructors say girls and boys are still different behind the wheel—even if the notion that girls tend to be "cautious" and boys "reckless" no longer applies.
"Girls have a tendency to be a little bit more impatient," says Kathy Clausen, vice president and general manager at A-Adams School of Driving in Morton Grove, Ill. "Girls, when they get themselves in a situation, want to honk their horn. Boys will want to physically react to it more," meaning they'll want to weave and change lanes, she says.
Some instructors say the new survey data showing girls are more aggressive than boys may be skewed.
"Trust me, boys are lying," says Adrian Mic, owner of Adrian's Driving School in Tarrytown, N.Y. "Women in general are more likely to follow the rules, in my experience," he says. But girls "don't pay attention to the speed limit. They just drive the way they feel. It doesn't mean they are aggressive."
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