Question: I’m 15 and have a learner’s permit. Does the insurance of the person driving with me (and older than 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 increase. Insurance usually goes with the car. But it depends on the car owner’s policy.

Typically, if you live with the person whose car you’re driving, that individual’s insurance company would ask to be notified when you obtain a permit and start to drive. Some insurers require that you be added to the policy while holding the learner’s permit. Others wait to add you as a driver until you receive your driver’s license.

If you have been added to an insurance policy, you are a “named insured.”

If you’re driving a vehicle belonging to someone you don’t live with – a friend or a relative – and aren’t listed on that person’s 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 a named insured or a permissive user, you should be covered up to the car owner’s policy limits.

Of course, there are exceptions. Some policies have certain restrictions or exclusions that keep permissive users 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 drivers younger than 25. 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 gets into an accident while driving the insured car, the liability limits are dropped 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 ensure you’re covered before you operate the car. If his insurance company says you are covered, his insurance should cover an accident.

Who can be in the car with a permitted driver? 

Graduated driving laws differ from state to state in terms of who can be in the car when the driver has a learner’s permit. Typically, drivers with learner’s permits can’t drive alone. The most common rule is that a licensed driver at least 21 years old must accompany a driver with a learner’s permit and be in the front seat. 

State-graduated driver’s license (GDL) laws establish specific rules for drivers with learner’s permits. For example, there may be restrictions on allowing passengers in the car when the driver has a learner’s permit.

Such restrictions may last into a teen’s early years of driving after he or she has obtained a driver’s license.

What happens if you have a learner’s permit and drive with people younger than 21 in the car?

Driving with a passenger younger than 21 when you have your learner’s permit – and not your full driver’s license – can lead to penalties. State law varies, but you could face a fine, have your learner’s permit suspended and delay getting a full driver’s license. Driving alone with a permit can also get you in trouble.

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— Penny Gusner contributed to this story.