It is the moment almost every teen in America dreams about: getting their driver’s license.
Once they get this right they’ve craved for so long, everything changes for them. They finally have a sense of freedom and may feel like they’re one step closer to becoming adults.
But with this new freedom comes a big responsibility, and not just for the teen behind the wheel. Parents and legal guardians also share the responsibility in some cases.
If your teen has been involved in a car accident, contact us immediately and get in touch with a car accident lawyer in Tampa for assistance. The characteristics of the case will significantly influence the punishments that the teen driver (and you, possibly) will face.
Here’s everything you need to know about this matter.
Teen Car Accidents: Is It a Real Problem?
Teens are considered a high-risk group of drivers, something you’ve probably already noticed when taking out an insurance policy for your teenager daughter or son. According to the CDC, car accidents are the leading cause of deaths among teens, and drivers aged 16 to 19 are roughly three times more likely to be involved or cause a car crash.
Teens in Florida can get their learner’s permit starting at age 15, and start driving unsupervised by the time they’re 16. According to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, most recent traffic data recalls over 17,065 car accidents involving drivers between the ages of 15 and 17. That accounts for almost 16% of all vehicle collisions in Florida.
So, the data paints an accurate picture: the number of accidents involving teenage drivers is quite high. Their lack of experience may be one of the primary explanations for this, though in some cases teen car accidents also involve substance abuse.
The Law in Florida
Current Florida legislation does not offer special consideration if the driver involved in a car accident is underage. Most of these cases are judged just as if all parties are adults: the police will arrive at the scene, statements will be taken, a report will be written. Even the insurance claims can go forward just the same.
If the accident was minor and had no severe repercussion, then the matters will most likely be resolved through the insurance company. Each party will file a claim with their company and ask for money to cover the damages. However, if the consequences are more serious and someone got hurt, then the question of fault arises.
The good news is that if the teen didn’t cause the car accident, then they are automatically not liable for damages. Their lack of experience becomes irrelevant, and the teen or the parents can demand compensation from the driver responsible for the crash..
However, if the teen driver is also the at-fault party, then they are liable for their actions and can be asked to pay for damages.
The Responsibility of Parents or Guardians
If the police investigation reveals that the teen driver caused an accident, then they will be held responsible according to the Florida law. If the courts decide to impose any penalties, such as probation or time in jail (depending on the characteristics of the case), then the teen will have to carry them through.
However, in some cases, the parents may have to cover for liability, mainly when the injured party sues for damages. Though a teen can start driving on their on at the age of 16, they are only officially an adult at the age of 18. Until then, they are still under the guardianship of their parents or other individuals legally responsible for them.
And believe it or not, you signed up to be financially responsible. When your teen filed for their driver’s license, the process also required an additional form signed by parents where you essentially said that you would be financially responsible for their actions. That means that any costs that appear as a result of a car incident have to be covered by the legal guardian.
As such, although everything will be emitted in the child’s name, the responsibility will fall on the parents to cover all the expenses.
Teen Drivers and Auto Insurance
Florida law specifies that drivers must have liability insurance to get a valid driving permit. In the case of teens, parents have two options.
First, you can take the teen on your auto insurance. This option is common and cost-effective. Or, parents can purchase a separate auto insurance policy just for the teen. The advantage, in this case, is that you can get a higher coverage than if you were to put your teenager kid on your insurance. The costs are higher as well. Either solution is viable as per Florida legislation, but you’ll have to decide which of the two is better for you and your teen.
What Can Parents Do?
Because of the high risks, many parents are wondering what can they do to limit the chances of their teen getting in a car accident. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration offers a few tips to parents and legal guardians in this regard:
- Educating their teen on safe driving (wearing seat belts, not going over the speed limits, etc.)
- Imposing a curfew and limiting the distances or areas the teen is permitted to drive in;
- Limiting the number of passengers allowed in the car;
- Talking to them openly about the dangers of alcohol or substance consumption while driving, or the risk of smartphone use while behind the wheel.
Additionally, parents can also not allow the teen to drive unsupervised for a longer time than the legal standard in Florida. That may give the teen more time to get comfortable driving until they can go on the road on their own.
All these measures are useful to make the teen more responsible about their role as a driver. And, while they can be quite effective, it’s fair to say they will not eliminate the chances of an accident.
The only thing that you can do that is not allowing your teen to get their driver’s license until they’re older or of legal age, though this may not be the ideal solution for a lot of families who might need an extra driver to help. For instance, many teens get their driver’s license to be able to get themselves and their siblings to school, as their parents do not have the time to do so because of their work schedules.
Many American families need their teens to own a valid driver’s license and help with various tasks. According to the law in the state of Florida, all parents are responsible for the actions taken by the teen behind the wheel, though there are two possible cases where liability can be removed:
- If the teen is legally emancipated from the guardian;
- If the teen has the vehicle and the insurance policy in their name (though in this case the courts still may choose to view the guardian as responsible for the minor).
Steps to Take
If your teen has been involved in a car accident, it is in all your best interests to work with a car accident attorney with experience in handling these cases. With their help, you can minimize the repercussions of the incident.
What a car accident lawyer can do on your behalf dramatically depends on the circumstances of the accidents. Here are a few possible scenarios:
- Contact witnesses;
- Review medical files;
- Represent you and your teen in court hearings;
- Meet with insurance adjusters and negotiate insurance payments;
- File the insurance claims;
- Meet with the other party to negotiate a settlement.
It’s best to work with a lawyer in case of a car crash even if the teen wasn’t entirely responsible for the accident. Florida is a comparative fault state, which means they can still be on the hook for damages if it is found they were even in part to blame for the crash.
Going back to our initial question, the short answer is yes; parents can be liable for teen drivers in the state of Florida.
The legislation is clear that, until they are 18, teens are under the legal guardianship of their parents or other individuals. The courts believe guardians have a responsibility to educate their teens and help them grow into responsible adults.
So the best thing you can do to help your teen is to talk to them openly about the dangers of driving and try to make them more responsible. And, if they are ever involved in an unfortunate vehicle accident, ask a lawyer to help you.
We’re here to help. If you need a lawyer in Tampa, Florida, for a car accident involving your teen, contact our office for a case review, and let us help you get through this entire ordeal.