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Liability for Teen Drivers in Motor Vehicle Accidents

Motor vehicle accidents are the principal cause of death among persons aged 15 to 20, according to National Center for Health statistics. Indeed, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety numbers show highway fatalities are three times more likely among 16- to 19-year-old drivers than those aged 20 and older.

Fledgling motorists are often more easily distracted and less observant of rules of the road than experienced drivers. A survey by the American Automobile Association last year pinpointed the three biggest reasons for motor vehicle accidents among adolescent drivers:

  1. Talking to passengers (15 percent);

  2. Texting, taking photos or gaming on cellphones (12 percent); and

  3. Focusing on in-vehicle distractions, e.g., car radio or GPS (11 percent).

In 2016, nearly 3,000 teens were involved in deadly accidents, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) statistics. Male drivers under age 20 cause six times more motor vehicle accidents than the average driver, according to the NHTSA. Drunk driving, by NHTSA numbers, was the underlying cause of 31 percent of fatalities in teen accidents.

Grappling with this crisis, state legislatures have enacted laws to protect young drivers from their own misplaced overconfidence and sense of invincibility. Massachusetts law[1], for example, bans texting while driving, one of 41 states to do so. The Commonwealth further bars operators under age 18 from using a mobile telephone, hands-free mobile telephone or mobile electronic device while driving on a public way[2]. Such legislation is a response to National Safety Council statistics that attribute 26 percent of mvas to cellphone use.

Likewise, states impose restrictions on new drivers, such as Rhode Island, which mandates that drivers under age 18 complete a 33-hour driver’s education course. Massachusetts requires parental approval before issuing a driver’s license to a child under 18.

Shielding young drivers from danger and liability begins at home. Parents should discuss driving risks and practice driving with teens in various weather conditions and circumstances. Select an easy-to-operate vehicle that can withstand the impact of an accident, steering clear of small cars, high-performance vehicles that encourage speeding and SUVS that are rollover-prone. Download apps that disable your teen’s cellphone while he/she is driving and detect and inform you when your vehicle is speeding.

Young drivers can reduce the risk of motor vehicle accidents through some simple behavioral changes. For example:

  • Avoid multitasking, such as eating, smoking or reading, while driving;

  • Turn off or silence a cellphone and pull off the road to make calls; and

  • Preset a GPS before beginning a trip.

Safety steps not only protect teen drivers, but also enable parents to avoid liability. Through negligent entrustment, parents may be legally liable for injuries caused by their child driver if they knew or should have known the child was an incompetent or reckless driver[3].

Moreover, Massachusetts recognizes social host liability that holds hosts responsible if a drunk guest later injures another in a motor vehicle accident, if the host knew or should have known the guest was intoxicated, but gave or allowed the drunk guest to consume an alcoholic beverage[4].

Recently, Forbes reported that adding a teen driver to an automobileinsurance policy could spike premium costs as much as 90 percent. Insurance carriers ease the sting by offering discounts for certified driver education courses and academic performance. If your teen participates in a study abroad program where driving is a possibility, consider overseas liability coverage. Also, adding a college student driver’s residence as an insured location on your homeowner and umbrella policy provides added protection against your vehicle being used as a communal “dorm car,” because liability follows a vehicle’s owner.

Personal injury cases are often fact dependent and complex. They require an astute legal professional to handle the matter in a technical fashion. If you have any questions about personal injury matters, call us for a free consultation at 617-657-HURT (4878) or fill out our contact form here.

[1] M.G.L. c. 90, §13

[2] M.G.L. c. 90, §8M

[3] Picard v. Thomas, 60 Mass. App. Ct. 362, 369 (2004).

[4] McGuiggan v. N.E. Tel. & Tel. Co., 398 Mass. 152 (1986).

The information on this website is for general information purposes only. Nothing on this site should be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.

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