Are Parents Liable for Their Teens’ Driving Behavior?

Getting a driver’s license is a major rite of passage for teen drivers. However, while many parents may appreciate that they no longer have to shuttle their teen to every sporting event or after school activity, handing over the car keys to a newly-licensed teen driver can be terrifying. It is one of the first major steps towards adulthood and independence, and it can be difficult for parents to come to terms with that, especially when statistics show that teen drivers are three times more likely to be fatally injured in a car accident compared to more experienced drivers. In addition to the obvious safety concerns associated with their child being seriously injured in a car accident, parents could face significant legal and financial issues if their child was responsible for causing an accident. If your teen driver was involved in a car accident, and you have questions about liability, do not hesitate to contact an experienced car accident lawyer.

Why Are Teen Drivers at an Increased Risk for Car Accidents?

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), there are more than 13 million teen drivers on the road on any given day. There are a number of risk factors that put teen drivers at an increased risk for car accidents, including the following:

  • Inexperience: The more experience drivers have, the better they are able to recognize potentially-dangerous situations and take the necessary steps to avoid them. Because they do not have the experience behind the wheel, they do not readily recognize dangerous situations or react as quickly to those situations.
  • Nighttime and weekend driving: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2019, roughly 40 percent of fatal car accidents involving teens between the ages of 13 and 19 occurred between the hours of 9 pm and 6 am, and over half of those accidents occurred on Friday, Saturday or Sunday.
  • Not using seat belts: Teen drivers have the lowest rate of seat belt use compared to other age groups. Close to half of the teen drivers and passengers who were fatally injured in car accidents in 2019 were not restrained by a seat belt at the time of the crash.
  • Distracted driving: This continues to be a serious problem among all drivers, but teen drivers are particularly susceptible to distracted driving behaviors, including talking and texting on the phone, and checking social media.
  • Speeding: Teen drivers are also more likely to drive over the posting speed limit, and follow too close to the vehicle in front of them, which increases the risk of a rear-end accident.
  • Driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol: Teen drivers are more likely to be involved in a car accident than older, more experienced drivers, even if they both have the same blood alcohol concentration (BAC), or have the same amount of drugs or substances in their system. The impairment, coupled with inexperience behind the wheel can have devastating consequences.

What Liability Issues Do I Need to Know About as a Parent of a Teen Driver?

When determining fault in an accident, the alleged victim will have to prove that the at-fault driver was negligent in some way. According to the theory of negligence, all drivers have a duty to obey the rules of the road and drive in a reasonably safe way, and if a driver breaches that duty causing injury to another motorist, they may be legally liable for the resulting injuries and property damage. This concept applies to all drivers, including inexperienced, newly licensed teen drivers. Regardless of skill level or experience behind the wheel, teen drivers are expected to make safety a priority and avoid any dangerous or irresponsible driving behavior.

There are situations where a teen driver’s parents may be held legally liable if a car accident was caused by their teen’s negligence. The following are examples of civil statutes that can be used to hold parents liable for a teen driver’s negligent or reckless behavior:

  • Theory of Negligent Entrustment. This states that a parent may be held liable for their teenage driver’s car accident if it can be proven that the parents knew, or should have known, that the teen posed a danger to other motorists. For example, if a teen driver had multiple accidents, and was issued multiple tickets for speeding or reckless driving, and the parents continued to give their teen driver permission to use the car, they could be held liable for any damages in the event of an accident.
  • Theory of Vicarious Liability. Also referred to as the “family purpose doctrine,” this states that the parents of a teen driver may be held liable for a car accident that occurred while their teen driver was behind the wheel. For example, if the parents ask the teen motorist to drive to the grocery store to pick up a few items for dinner, and the teen is involved in an accident on the way home, the parent may be held liable for the injuries or property damage caused by the accident.

Can My Teen Driver Get Car Insurance?

In Georgia, a provisional driver’s license is granted to drivers who are at least 16 years old, who have held an Instructional Permit for one year and one day, and who pass their driving test. However, when it comes to purchasing car insurance, a 17-year-old is still considered a minor, so a parent or guardian would be required to co-sign the policy until he or she turns 18. That means that the parent will be financially responsible for the policy. It is also important for parents to consider the potential costs of purchasing a separate insurance policy for a teen driver once they turn 18. While some parents may think that a separate policy will save money, insurance companies consider teen drivers to be high-risk drivers, so a separate policy is going to be much more expensive than adding him or her to an existing policy.

Circumstances become much more complicated if a teenager caused a car accident while driving a vehicle that belonged to someone else. If the teen driver had permission from the owner of the vehicle to use the car, the auto insurance on the car will likely apply. However, if the owner of the vehicle did not give permission, or told the teen not to use the car, the liability insurance on the vehicle may not apply. There are some situations where insurance policies may have exclusions for certain actions. For example, if a teen driver’s willful or malicious actions were intentional, it is unlikely that the insurance on the vehicle will apply. In order to obtain financial compensation, the injured victim will need to file a lawsuit.

What Can Parents Do to Protect Their Teen Drivers?

Car accidents are the number one cause of death in teenagers, which is a sobering fact for parents of newly licensed teen drivers to consider. Graduated licensing programs help ease some of the worry by imposing certain restrictions on new drivers. For example, newly licensed drivers may not operate a motor vehicle between midnight and 6 a.m. Another restriction in graduated licensing restricts the number of passengers teen drivers can have. In addition to the laws that are meant to protect teen drivers, there are a number of steps that parents can take to prevent their child from being involved in a serious car accident, including the following:

  • Set a good example. If you expect your teen driver to always wear a seatbelt, obey the speed limit, and avoid distracted driving behavior, model the behavior you want them to follow.
  • Put the phone away. Distracted driving is a major problem among teen drivers, so make sure your teen driver understands the consequences of texting and talking on the phone. Always leave your phone in your purse or in the glove compartment while you are driving and set a good example to your teen driver.
  • Make sure the vehicle is properly maintained. Have the vehicle inspected on a regular basis by an experienced mechanic and make any necessary repairs as soon as possible to ensure that the vehicle is safe to drive.
  • Create a driving contract. This should include a set of rules that your teen must follow, including when he or she is allowed to use the car, how many passengers are allowed in the car, and what time your teen driver is expected home. The contract should also make it very clear what the consequences are if any of the rules are broken.

Savannah Car Accident Lawyers at Kicklighter Law Represent Victims of Car Accidents Involving Teen Drivers

If you or a loved one was seriously injured in a car accident involving a newly licensed teen driver, you are urged to contact our Savannah car accident lawyers at Kicklighter Law as soon as possible. Our dedicated legal team will assist you with every step of the claims process, and secure the maximum financial compensation you deserve. To schedule a confidential consultation, call us today at 912-754-6003 or contact us online. Located in Springfield, Georgia, we serve clients throughout Effingham County, Savannah, and the surrounding areas.