With teenage drivers having some of the highest rates for car accidents, it is no wonder that parents worry so much about their young motorists. Many parents want to understand if they can be held liable for their child’s car accident. After all, the child may have been driving the parent’s car. In Virginia, parents are not usually held liable for their child’s car accident, and an injured party cannot typically make a claim against a parent for damages. However, it is important to know the nuances of the law. There are certain situations in which a parent should be concerned about being held liable for their child’s car accident.
In Virginia, a vehicle owner can be held liable if they lend their car to a driver that they knew or should have known was unfit and likely to cause injury to others. This applies to parents of teenage drivers as well, but it is not limited to parents and children. A parent could be liable for their child’s accident if they knew the child was physically or mentally impaired or under the influence of alcohol at the time of the collision.
In a well-known case, the Supreme Court of Virginia decided that a child’s poor driving record by itself did not mean they were an unsafe driver who would cause injury to others. In that case, a child caused injury to others in a vehicle accident. The victims sued the parents, partly based on the fact that the child had prior accidents and citations, making them an alleged unsafe driver.
The Supreme Court ruled that prior accidents and citations by themselves did not make the teenager an unsafe driver who was likely to harm others. They found that the teenager was not physically or mentally impaired at the time of the accident or under the influence of alcohol. The teenager did not have a restricted or suspended license or a defective vehicle. Therefore, there was no negligent entrustment by the teenager’s parents, and they were found not liable. In Virginia, most cases of negligent entrustment involving a teenage driver and their parent centers on underage or unlicensed driving, intoxication, and physical deformities or blindness that would affect the teenager’s ability to drive safely.
In Virginia, a teenager can get their learner’s permit when they are about 15 years old. An underage driver is considered anyone under the age of 16 years old, so parents need to remember they are personally and financially responsible for their teenage driver during this time.
Even if parents are not personally responsible for a teenager’s accident, their insurer may have to pay the claim of someone injured in the collision. If the teenager is found to be at fault, the insurer would most likely raise the premiums on the parent’s insurance coverage.
How can a Parent Protect Their Teenage Driver?
A parent is responsible for keeping their teenage driver safe. Teenagers and their parents should make safety a top priority. The following are some safety tips for both parents and teenage drivers:
- Lead by example. Children, including teenagers, mimic what they see their parents doing. Parents should obey all traffic laws, signals, and signs. They should teach their children about driving safety through hands-on practice. They should also share tips they have learned through years of experience.
- Practice different driving experiences. Driving neighborhood streets is fine, but a teenage motorist should learn to drive in all types of conditions, such as highways, interstates, roads with construction, curvy or hilly roads, wet or snow-covered roads, and other everyday situations.
- Have rules in place. A parent is in charge of the rules, and driving is no exception. A parent should set curfews, limit the number of passengers allowed in the car, permit driving only to specific destinations, nix nighttime driving, and forbid distractions.
- Delay permission for a license. A parent knows their child best. Some teenagers are just not mature or responsible enough to get a learner’s permit or license. Sometimes, delaying this rite of passage will be the best step a parent can do for their child who is just not ready to drive.
- Communicate consequences. The teenage driver should know that they will face consequences if they break any of the rules or get a traffic citation. If involved in an accident, remedial action might also be helpful. The bottom line is that the teenager could seriously harm or even kill someone with the car. Do not let this happen by being lax or uninvolved.
- Talk about the dire consequences of drinking and taking drugs while driving. Parents should discuss the dangers of impaired driving, including the risks of alcohol and illegal and legal drugs.
- Have adequate insurance. Be sure that there is enough insurance to cover liability for everyone on the policy. Do not skimp on full coverage insurance, it could mean financial devastation if there is not enough insurance to cover damages.
What Causes Teen-Related Car Accidents?
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among people aged 15 to 24 years old. Teenagers and their parents should have discussions about these common causes of teen-related driving accidents:
- Distracted driving: This is the top cause of teenage driving accidents, and the cellphone is the number one distraction. Talking and texting on a cellphone causes the most crashes among young drivers.
- Inexperience: A teenager cannot possibly be adept at handling every driving situation right away. The more practice and different experiences a parent can provide, the better for the new driver. Weekend and nighttime driving are especially risky for teenage drivers.
- Impaired driving: This is a common reason for teen-related crashes and injuries. Parents should consider signing a pact with the teenager stating they will not drive impaired, and spell out unnegotiable consequences if they do.
- Aggressive driving: Whether to test their skills or scare someone, aggressive driving can lead to severe consequences. Speeding, tailgating, and other destructive driving behaviors are considered aggressive. Males under the age of 19 years old are the biggest offenders.
- Driving with passengers: Studies show that the risk of teen-related driving accidents increases with each passenger in the vehicle.
- Not observing traffic and road conditions: Traffic tie-ups, construction, detours, and unfamiliar road signs or traffic signals can confuse a new driver. Practice with young drivers in as many conditions as possible.
- Not driving for road conditions: Ice, snow, rain, fog, and wind can impact driving. Teach the teenage driver how to operate the vehicle in adverse weather conditions safely.
- Not using seat belts: Every teenage driver must require everyone in the vehicle to wear their seat belts, including themselves. Parents must enforce consequences when seat belts are not used.
Virginia Beach Car Accident Lawyers Help Those Affected by Teen-Related Collisions
In some cases, a parent may be held liable for their teenager’s car accident. After any serious collision, it is important to speak to a lawyer. If you need help after a teen-related collision, contact a Virginia Beach car accident lawyer today. At East Coast Trial Lawyers, we will work hard to protect your legal rights. Call us at 757-352-2237 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation. Located in Virginia Beach, we proudly serve clients throughout Chesapeake, Eastern Shore, Hampton, Newport News, Norfolk, Portsmouth, and Suffolk, Virginia, as well as North Carolina and nationwide.