When Could Parents Be Responsible for a Teenager’s Car Accident?

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parents talking to their son after a car accident

According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, 2,042 people were killed in accidents involving a teenager aged 15 to 18 in 2019. Tragically, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among teens in that age bracket. Knowing this as a parent, you likely encourage your teen to practice safe driving. But accidents can still happen.

If your teen was involved in a car accident, you might wonder if you can be held responsible for any damages related to your teenager’s car accident. At Finz & Finz, P.C., we want you to have all of the information you need about teen car crashes and your legal options and obligations after your teen is involved in an accident. We’re ready to help, so contact us for a free case review.

Causes of Teen Crashes

According to the Centers for Disease Control, teenagers from 16 to 19 are more likely to cause car crashes than any other age group. Teen drivers have less experience on the road and often have less familiarity with traffic laws. Some also feel less confident than their older adults when they are behind the wheel.

Some common factors in teenage car accidents include:

  • Distracted driving – Distracted driving is incredibly common among all drivers, including teens, and is the most common cause of traffic-related accidents in the United States. Distracted driving includes activities like:
    • Texting
    • Talking on the phone or with passengers
    • Adjusting the sound system
    • Eating and drinking
    • Personal grooming
    • Daydreaming
    • Taking photos and videos
    • Using a GPS
  • Driving under the influence – Driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs is also a common cause of teen crashes. Driving drugged or drunk causes impaired judgment and delayed reactions, and when that’s combined with an inexperienced teenage driver, devastating accidents can occur.
  • Aggressive driving – Teen drivers are less mature than adult drivers, and some teens may drive aggressively, such as making sudden and unsafe lane changes or tailgating other drivers.
  • Speeding – Teen drivers may ignore the speed limit, which increases the chance that they lose control of their vehicle and cause an accident. Speeding also makes collisions more severe.
  • Hazardous conditions – Teen drivers have less experience driving in inclement weather and may not know how to adjust their driving to account for hazardous conditions such as rain, snow, sleet, ice, and fog.

Parents and Teens Have the Same Responsibilities on the Road

All drivers, no matter how young or old, have the legal responsibility (known as a duty of care) to obey traffic laws and exercise caution. Doing so helps keep other motorists safe. All drivers also have an obligation to keep pedestrians and cyclists safe on the road.

Even though teens are held to the same legal standard as their parents, they can only be held financially responsible if they actually own their vehicle. In New York, the owner of the vehicle and their insurer pay when accidents occur. That means that, in practice, parents must pay for accidents that their teens cause.

Are Parents Liable for Teen Car Crashes?

In most cases, parents are legally responsible for damages in car accidents caused by their teens. Most teens drive cars owned by their parents. Under New York Vehicle and Traffic Law § 388, the owner of the vehicle is liable for injuries and deaths caused by that vehicle, even if they weren’t behind the wheel.

So, when a parent allows their teen to drive one of their vehicles and that teen causes an accident that results in injuries or fatalities, the owner of the vehicle (parent) is liable. Neither the teen nor anyone to whom the parent loans the car can be held liable if they don’t own the vehicle.

Check Your Insurance Policy

It’s important for parents to exercise caution when loaning their vehicle to others, particularly their teens, with less experience behind the wheel. Before allowing your teen to drive your car, you should review your insurance policy and check with your carrier to determine whether your policy provides coverage for your teen or any other individuals who might borrow your vehicle.

It’s possible that your policy does not cover your teen, so you may need to adjust your coverage or purchase a new policy that ensures their coverage. In New York, teen drivers can get coverage through their parents’ insurance policy in a variety of ways, including being listed on the policy and living in the same house as the owner of the vehicle. As always, the best practice is to read your insurance policy carefully so that you understand your coverage.

What Happens If I Can’t Cover the Cost of the Damage?

In some instances, parents are unable to cover the cost of damages caused by a teen driver, particularly when the accident caused severe injuries and property damage. If damages total more than $500 and parents are unable to pay, they might be able to apply for a hardship exception.

Proving a hardship can be challenging and requires complicated paperwork, but it’s a method to reduce the amount parents have to pay to victims of the accident. If you think this situation applies to you, it’s a good idea to consult with an attorney to ensure that your paperwork is completed and filed correctly.

Consult With a Compassionate New York City Attorney Today

If your teenager was injured in a motor vehicle accident, don’t wait to contact the New York car accident attorneys at Finz & Finz, P.C. today. We can review your case, determine your legal options, and aggressively pursue compensation on your behalf.

If your teen caused the accident, our team could advise you of your legal rights and obligations, including the possibility of a hardship exception if you’re unable to cover the costs related to the accident. Contact our office today for a free case review.