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Friday, August 12, 2011
By John D. Doak, Oklahoma Insurance Commissioner
In communities across Oklahoma, schools are back in session. Each new school year is a time for individual growth and exciting opportunities. But as each child climbs the ladder of grades on the way to adulthood, he or she presents parents with many choices to make – including insurance-related decisions.
It’s inevitable – when kids head back to classrooms, some of them bring germs along with them. Younger children can hurt themselves on the playground or in gym class, and older students who play scholastic sports are at risk of injury. Is your family’s health insurance coverage sufficient?
Did your son or daughter recently earn a driver’s license? Adding teen drivers to the policy will raise the cost of your auto insurance, but there are ways to save. Ask your agent whether good-student discounts or reduced rates for completing driver’s safety courses are available from your current car insurance provider. If they aren’t, don’t be afraid to shop around. It’s possible that another insurance company can offer you and your family’s newest driver equivalent coverage at better rates.
It also pays to stress safety to young drivers. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that one in five injury accidents is the result of distracted driving, and that nearly one in five people who die in automobile crashes were killed in accidents where cell phone use was reported by one or more of the involved drivers. It is critical that your children understand that their phone is never to be in use – whether talking or texting – while they are at the wheel.
During March and May last year, I had the opportunity to congratulate students at Ada High School for their award-winning “X the TXT” campaign, which took top honors in a nationwide contest sponsored by The Allstate Foundation and Channel One News. Recently, student-members of a group called Generation tXt at Tulsa’s Booker T. Washington High School produced a music video to encourage their classmates to put the phone down while driving. So a lot of kids realize the dangers of texting while driving, but it’s crucial that parents reinforce that message, as well.
Other forms of distracted driving to which many of us fall victim include eating and drinking, reading, personal grooming, adjusting the radio, CD or Mp3 player, and talking to passengers. Remember, Oklahoma law issues restricted driver’s licenses to those under age 18 which limit young drivers for the first six to 12 months from carrying more than one passenger in the vehicle unless the other passengers are all family members or a 21-year-old licensed driver is riding along in the front passenger seat.
Of course, students who aren’t old enough to drive must still take great care in getting themselves to school. If your children ride the bus, make sure they arrive a few minutes early at the stop, they stand away from the curb, they never walk behind the bus, and they follow the bus driver’s instructions. Be realistic about your child’s pedestrian skills before letting him walk to school. Check the route for safety, and teach your children to look both ways before crossing the street, to respect a “Do Not Walk” sign, and to always use the crosswalk. Children riding their bikes to school should always wear a helmet, learn and use appropriate hand signals, ride on the right side of the road, respect traffic lights and stop signs, and wear bright-colored clothing to increase visibility.
As parents, be extra-careful when driving your children to school. Be on the lookout for other children who are walking or bicycling to school. Obey school-zone speed limits and follow the rules established by your child’s school regarding vehicle lines for drop-off and pickup of students; those rules are intended to protect the lives of your child and the children of others.
If your child has reached adulthood and is headed to college, further insurance questions arise. Your college student can stay on the family health insurance policy, but some schools offer affordable supplemental insurance in case your family plan doesn’t provide enough coverage. And, many colleges and universities have low-cost or even free basic health care services available that your son or daughter should know how to locate on campus and access if your student becomes sick or injured while away at school.
While no academic setting is immune from crime, many college campuses are safer than the general community. Still, crime does occur, and the most frequently reported crimes on campus involve theft. While many homeowners insurance policies cover personal property outside the house – including the belongings of your college student – there are usually limits. Ask your insurer whether your student’s laptop computer, stereo, TV, bicycle and other personal effects are sufficiently covered if stolen on campus. If they aren’t, shop around for coverage that offers your student and your family enough protection.
If you have any further questions or concerns about insurance, contact our Consumer Assistance team toll-free at (800) 522-0071, or visit the Oklahoma Insurance Department online at oid.ok.gov.