Teen Driver? Will Insurances Use Lab Tests to Spike Rates?

teen driving safety

Image courtesy of http://www.freeimages.com/profile/janismama

When Progressive first came out with the Snapshot that plugged into your car I was confident I was going to save money. After all, I hadn’t had an accident in some 25 years so I must be doing something right.

However, when I got the results back it was clear that my driving habits where not going to earn me a discount.  Apparently, one needs to drive like a sedated retiree in a battery-operated golf cart on a low charge to actually qualify for a discount.  Not that it left a bad taste in my mouth…

Regardless of my experiences, I think we can all agree that most insurance companies will do just about anything to save themselves money and charge you higher premiums.  But would they go as far as requesting bloodwork from their insureds to drive up rates?  (there would always be the plug that this test would NEVER raise your rate, but could result in cost savings)

Your body’s response to stress is termed, medically, as the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, or HPA axis for short.  Problems with the HPA axis are not obscure.  There are thousands upon thousands of studies cutting across every specialty on the effects of stress on the body.  The most notable hormone that is associated with the HPA axis is cortisol, the body’s “stress hormone.”  When we study cortisol levels we can get a pretty good idea of how you might react in a given stressful situation as well as how well you can react to that situation.

One of things that cortisol can do is predict how well we may adapt to a given situation.  Cortisol reactivity is a way to see how well or how much someone responds to a stressful situation.  Those with greater cortisol reactivity will have a more exaggerated response to a situation.  We could almost call this group high-strung but that would be a large oversimplification.  It is also likely that this group may learn quicker from stressful experiences.

Which, if we can all remember back to the time when we had just turned 16, getting our driver’s license could be considered a stressful experience.  I still remember my first accident with a parked car (they are SO unpredictable…).  This particular study looks at the relationship between cortisol reactivity in 42 otherwise healthy teenagers and the likelihood that a new driver will get in an accident in the first 18 months.  Here’s the details:

  • Kids with a higher baseline cortisol response had lower crash or near-crash rates over the course of the study.
  • This same group of kids had faster decreases in crash or near-crash rates over time (in other words, they were faster learners).

While it may be a little early to worry about your insurance company requiring saliva samples (the best way to check cortisol) before your teen can drive, it may help you, as a parent, to better understand if your child might be at a greater risk of being in an accident.  If your teen is less reactive, it might make more sense to pay special attention to known distractions in the car such as cell phones, friends and late night driving.


James Bogash

For more than a decade, Dr. Bogash has stayed current with the medical literature as it relates to physiology, disease prevention and disease management. He uses his knowledge to educate patients, the community and cyberspace on the best way to avoid and / or manage chronic diseases using lifestyle and targeted supplementation.