Young, male drivers are rightly seen as a risk. So how can they afford to pay for insurance, asks James Ruppert
IF THERE'S one good thing about being middle-aged, it's that your car insurance premium drops - assuming you were able to get cover at all when you were younger.

Young drivers are seen as risky, particularly teenage boys. This group makes the highest number of claims and, typically, they are more expensive. The statistics make depressing reading: a quarter of people killed in car accidents are under 25, yet 10 per cent of drivers are under 25, and 30 per cent of crashes involve drivers aged 17 to 25.

I pretended to be Darren, 18, seeking insurance for a 1996 Ford Fiesta 1.1-litre. I was quoted between pounds 2,488 and pounds 2,694. I then changed Darren's profession from apprentice bricklayer to accounts clerk and the premium fell to between pounds 2,270 to pounds 2,613. The only way I could significantly reduce the premium was to change gender. As Debbie, an office worker, my quotation fell to pounds 1,365.

The car I chose for this case would have been worth no more than pounds 700, yet it cost a minimum of twice that to insure. Younger drivers often cannot afford a car, and overload their friends' cars on a night out, or drive older, more dangerous cars which they can afford to run.

"It's all about risk," says Malcolm Tarling, from the Association of British Insurers (ABI). "As for the car, if it is a sporty one that is more likely to have an accident, it does not mean that it will, but the risk is greater."

There are initiatives aimed at driving down insurance premiums for younger drivers. A government-backed scheme called the Pass Plus advanced driving course costs about pounds 150 for six lessons (including motorways), and is taken by people who have passed their standard test. Norwich Union, offers a discount of up to 50 per cent for those with a Pass Plus rating.The ABI also recommends paying a higher excess or looking for a specialist broker. Norwich Union, Tesco and Endsleigh offer competitive rates for younger drivers. Being a member of the Institute of Advanced Motorists can also help.

Stuart Neill, at Tesco Finance, says: "Our advice is to build up a good no-claims bonus and to start with a smaller car. We also stress that the bigger companies in the market should not be overlooked.Do some research into the background of the insurer. A decision should never be based purely on price."

Some young drivers name themselves on their parents' policy to reduce the cost. However, insurers have the right to refuse a claim on this sort of policy if the driver has been listed an occasional driver while acting as the main driver.

Not surprisingly, drivers who are younger than 25 are most likely to be uninsured. If the uninsured get caught, they receive an IN10 (driving without car insurance) endorsement, which pushes up the cost of insuring their car even further, provided they have insurance.

Another proposal to make driving safer is to introduce motoring curfews, in which young motorists would not be able to drive between 10pm and 6am, to reduce the number of under-25s involved in late-night crashes. Statistics from the Department for Transport show that 42 per cent of fatal accidents occur at night. Drivers would be entitled to lower insurance premiums if they agreed not to drive at night, though this could be very difficult to enforce. Norwich Union's "pay as you drive" scheme allows young drivers will be able to keep their premiums to more affordable levels by driving mainly during "'off peak" times. But it always pays to just shop around.

"Until a couple of years ago insurance had been a bit of nightmare," says Katherine Alison, 25, from Bedford. "I remember, after passing my test at 19, ringing around and getting sky-high quotes. I ended up paying over pounds 100 a month, which was more than my Renault Clio was worth. But two and half years ago, I bought a new Peugeot 206 and decided to shop around. I was surprised to see that Tesco were doing cover and even more surprised by the quote." Katherine reduced the insurance by pounds 120; she now pays pounds 28 a month, including breakdown cover.