For parents, the day that their son or daughter obtains their driver’s license is a big moment in their life. But along with a child’s coming of age and new freedoms as a driver, there comes a huge responsibility – not just for the teen, but for the parents as well. Poor decisions could have major legal repercussions for the entire family.
Mark Alexander, a personal injury attorney with the Stewart Melvin & Frost law firm in Gainesville, Ga., discusses the responsibility facing parents and teen drivers.
Question: What are some of the potential legal issues that parents of young teenage drivers should be aware of?
Mark: There is the Family Purpose Doctrine which says parents are responsible and can be liable for the negligence of their teenage driver. The legal definition of Family Purpose Doctrine is a theory of liability in tort law that establishes liability on the owner of a "family car" when it causes an accident due to the negligence of another family member.
1) Must own or have an interest in or control over the car
2) Must make the car available for family use
3) Driver must be a member of immediate household
4) Driven with Permission
The owner of the car becomes a principal and the negligent family member driver becomes their agent, whose actions are imputed to the owner.
With the Coca-Cola Company or any company with a truck fleet, the company is responsible and liable for the actions of its drivers. The same principle applies to parents and their children. Mom and Dad can be named in an auto accident lawsuit even if neither one of them was the driver.
Other issues to consider:
If a college driver is no longer living in household, the parents are not liable. If the parents’ title the car in child’s name, it does not avoid liability if parent provides (pays for) or exercises control over car.
Advice to Parents:
- Talk to your child and impress upon them the big responsibilities that come with a driver’s license. One foolish mistake on their part can have serious legal implications that affect the rest of their life – and the innocent lives of others as well.
- Talk with insurance representative. It is a good opportunity to review your coverage.
- Motor vehicle crashes are leading cause of death of 15- to 20-year olds. Impress this sobering fact on your teenage son or daughter.
- Driver’s education is team effort involving parents, students, and community.
- Parents should model safe-driving behaviors.
- Invest in meaningful guided practice over time to turn child’s safe driving skills into habits.
- Knowing your child is a skilled, safety–conscious driver will give you greatest peace of mind.