Parents Face Liability with Teen Driving Accidents on the Rise

August 9, 2011

748825_crash_car.jpgOur car accident attorneys know that accidents happen....especially to teen drivers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that more than 5,500 teenagers die in car crashes each year, making motor vehicle crashes the leading cause of death for teens. With so many teen driving accidents happening every day, parents are facing increased liability for the damages their children cause. Although the laws vary state-to-state, many parents can be held legally responsible for the negligent actions of their teen drivers.

Studies show that at least eight teens, ranging in age from 16 to 19, die every year in a car crash. The risk of crashing is even higher when teen passengers are in the car. There are many reasons why teen driving accidents occur, with speeding and alcohol use accounting for most fatal crashes. Teens are also more likely to be distracted drivers, and when a driver's eyes are averted from the road for even a few seconds, tragedies can occur. A 2011 study in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine attributes more than 300,000 traffic crashes each year to cell phone distractions. Cell phones interfere with a driver's ability to concentrate and process information, making crashes more likely to happen. Many teens also use their phones to text, despite laws in 34 states banning texting while driving.

Teens are also less likely to use seat belts, making injuries more likely to occur when accidents happen. Some companies such as Ford have introduced technologies to give parents more control over their teen's driving habits, such as a programmable key to mute the radio until the occupants of the car put on their seatbelts. But this technology is not yet in widespread use and many parents face growing safety concerns over their teen drivers.

Our Chicago auto accident attorneys know that parents have a reason to be concerned. In Illinois, parents may be liable for their teens negligent driving under an agency theory. If the teen driver is on a family errand when a crash happens, such as going to the store for groceries, his or her parents may be held responsible for any accident that results. Additionally, even if parents have insurance, many insurers exclude certain acts from coverage, such as refusing to cover illegal activities like drunk driving.

In some states, the laws place even more accountability on parents. Florida law holds vehicle owners responsible under a legal theory known as the "dangerous instrumentality doctrine," making parents liable whenever their teen driver negligently operates a car in either parent's name. Financial pressures are increased by the fact that a damage cap will not help parents who know the child is conducting illegal activities, such as underage drinking, but allow the teen to drive anyways.

In Arizona, parents of teen drivers face even greater liability. Drivers under 18 are required to have an application signed by at least one parent, who assumes responsibility for any damage or personal injuries their teen driver causes.

The statistics are clear. Drivers ages 16-19 are four times more likely to crash than older drivers. As more and more teen driving accidents happen, parents of teen drivers are facing increased financial liability for their children's negligent driving habits.