Parental Liability For Teen Drivers

Receiving a driver’s license is a rite of passage for American teens. Driving not only allows a teen a new found freedom but also brings additional responsibility. However, the teen driver is not the only one assuming responsibility when he or she takes the wheel; so are parents or guardians.

A recent accident indicates the potential liability that a parent may face. The accident, which killed the 16 year old passenger, occurred when the teen driver lost control of the vehicle after hitting a railroad crossing at high speed. At the time of the accident the teen driver had a blood alcohol level of 0.165, more than twice the legal limit for adults. In Florida, the parents of the teen driver may be held liable for the damage caused in this accident.

Florida Law

Under Florida law, a parent can be held legally responsible for the negligent actions of this or her teen driver. Florida law requires that a parent or guardian sign the driver’s license of a person under the age of 18. By doing so, the law holds the person signing the license liable for any negligent or willful misconduct of the young driver.

A parent’s liability may not end when the child reaches the age of 18. Florida also recognizes the “dangerous instrumentality doctrine,” which states that the owner of a vehicle is liable for its negligent operation. If a college student takes a car that is titled in the parent’s name to school, then the parent may be liable for the actions of his or her adult child when behind the wheel.

Parents and guardians may be able to limit their liability by:

  • Not allowing a teen to obtain a driver’s license until the age of 18
  • Invest in sufficient amounts of insurance
  • Have a teen driver purchase and title his or her own vehicle
  • Make sure that a teen is responsible enough to handle the responsibilities and consequences of driving a vehicle

Undoubtedly, it would be difficult, possibly impractical, for any parent to inform a teen that he or she has to wait a few years until a parental signature is not necessary to receive a driver’s license or until the teen can afford his or her own car.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) offers tips to help parents keep teens safe. The NHTSA stresses that parents need to establish a clear set of rules and consequences for teen drivers. The NHTSA suggests that parents set rules around topics such as:

  • Seat belts
  • Number of passengers
  • Curfew
  • Cell phone use while driving
  • Alcohol use

Many states cap damage awards so that families are not put into financial disarray. However, even in those states, a parent may still be liable if he or she had reason to know the child would be driving negligently – for example, if a parent knew the child had been drinking and let the child drive anyway.

If you have been involved in a car accident, please seek medical assistance. For more information on legal claims seek the assistance of an experienced personal injury attorney.