Most parents probably get a little nervous when their teens take to the road, and for good reason. Teenage drivers are often very dangerous behind the wheel. In addition to their inexperience, teen drivers are more likely to succumb to the supposed “thrill” of risky behaviors like drunk driving, driving at night, distracted driving due to cell phones or usage of MP3 players, etc.
Statistics confirm parental apprehension. According to one insurance provider, each year:
More than 400,000 teens between 16 and 20 are severely injured in car accidents, and more than 5,000 lose their lives. Despite the very small percentage (10%) of the population that teenagers account for, teenage car crashes actually account for 12 percent of fatal car accidents.
The statistics are alarming. A teen driver is four times more likely to get into an accident than any other driver. The risk is even greater during the first year the teen learns to drive.
Beyond the risk of a child being severely injured (or worse) in a tragic accident, parents could also be held financially liable for the damages caused by their teen driver. Whether or not parents are likely to be held financially responsible very much depends on the facts of the case.
Family Purpose Doctrine
Under the Family Purpose Doctrine, if a parent allows a child to drive a vehicle they own and maintain for themselves they are liable for their child’s negligence while driving. That means that if you allow your child to drive your car and they cause an accident, you may be forced to pay for the medical expenses, pain and suffering, or lost wages of the injured parties. In some circumstances you could even be forced to pay punitive damages.
The idea behind the family purpose doctrine is that the owner of a car can control the car’s use and as such allows family members to drive. The owner’s control of the car gives rise to liability. If both parents own a car they can both be held fully liable for their teens negligence. One way to get around the family purpose doctrine is for parents to give title of a vehicle to their child. If the child owns the car, and not the parent(s), the parent(s) cannot be held liable.
Because of the family purpose doctrine it is a good idea for parents to make sure they have adequate liability insurance to cover any possible accidents or incidences. If insurance is inadequate a judgment could be rendered against the parents personally, reaching other assets. The amount of damages may even be based on the parents ability to pay.
For these reasons it is very important that parents educate their children about the risks of dangerous driving behaviors. While parents cannot control what their children do behind the wheel, they can ensure their teens are fully aware. Undoubtedly, informed teens will be more likely to make safe intelligent driving decisions than those who have not been fully informed of the consequences unsafe behavior can have.