Question: I’m 15 and have a learner’s permit. Does the insurance of the person who’s driving with me (and over 21 as required) apply to me while I'm driving in their car, even if I'm not on their policy?  For instance, if I crash my uncle’s car, will his insurance cover the accident as if he were driving? 

Answer: If a teen driver with a learner's permit gets into an accident, the insurance will likely cover it, but your rates will also likely increase.

Insurance usually goes with the car. But it all depends on the car owner’s policy.

Typically, if you live with the person whose car you're driving, their insurance company would ask to be notified when you obtain your permit and start to drive. Some insurers require that you be added to the policy while holding the learner’s permit. Some wait to add you as a driver until you receive your driver’s license. (See "Can you get car insurance with a learner's permit?" and “A parent’s guide to insuring a teen driver.”) If you have been added to an insurance policy, you are a "named insured."

If you're driving a vehicle belonging to someone that you don’t live with – a friend or a relative – and aren’t listed on their policy, most auto insurance policies will cover you as long as the car owner gave you permission to use the vehicle. That makes you a "permissive user."

If you're either a named insured or a permissive user, you should be covered up to the car owner's policy limits. (See “Who can drive your car?”)

Of course there are exceptions, usually made in an effort to bring down insurance premiums.

So, some policies have certain restrictions or exclusions that would keep you, as a permissive user, from being fully covered by the car owner’s policy. That would leave you and the car owner personally responsible if you were in an accident.

For example, some auto policies have restrictions that exclude coverage for young drivers – such as those under 25 years of age. Most commonly, this is seen with specialty policies on collectible cars, but the same provision can be used to help lower rates on a standard policy as well.

In some states, auto insurers are allowed what is known as a step-down provision. If a permissive user has an accident in the insured car, the liability limits are dropped down to the state minimum requirements, even when the owner has higher limits.

So if you want to practice driving with your uncle in his car, he should review his policy and speak to his agent to make sure you’re covered before you operate his car. If his insurance company says you are covered, his insurance should cover an accident.

 

Who can be in the car with a permit driver? 

States' graduated driving laws differ on who can be in the car. Typically, drivers with learner’s permits can’t drive alone. A licensed driver at least 21 years old typically must drive with a person with a learner’s permit and must be in the front seat. 

State graduated driver license (GDL) laws provide specific rules for drivers with learner’s permits, including learner’s permit passenger restrictions and teen drivers in the early years of having a drivers’ license. New Jersey’s GDL laws even go to the age of 21. 

 

What happens if you drive with a permit and with someone under 21?

Driving with someone under 21 when you have your learner’s permit can lead to penalties.

State law varies but you could face a $100 fine or more, have your learner’s permit suspended and face delays in getting a full driver’s license. 

Driving alone with a permit may be tempting, but if you’re caught by police, you could face penalties that will hurt both your wallet and future driving opportunities.