A lot of comedy has come out of parents letting their children drive their car to use when on vacation or for less meaningful purposes. While some of that comedy from TV and movies plays up the headache of the parent dealing with the child damaging the car, we aren’t shown the legal realities. Especially when your child causes a car accident that hurts someone else, the legal responsibilities aren’t necessarily going to fall on your child’s shoulders.
That’s because some states have what’s called a family car doctrine where the burden automatically falls on the parent, even if the child caused a car accident. You have to consider the repercussions the next time you think giving your children the keys to your car is a normal rite of passage.
Why a Parent is Held Accountable
This law is only applicable in about 20 states as of this article, and you should check to see if your state has it before letting your child drive your car. The law states that if a household has a family car shared by everyone, the primary owner of the car is going to be held responsible for any accidents occurred when someone else is driving. This could be the father or mother, depending on whose name is actually listed as the owner.
FindLaw states that the doctrine also applies if your child is over 18 and still a dependent in the family. Considering many kids over 18 are going to start driving more often, it doesn’t mean they’re officially designated an adult with accident responsibilities. Unless they’re financially fortunate enough to buy a car on their own, borrowing the family car once in a while is going to be inevitable.
But keep in mind that even if your state doesn’t have a family car doctrine, you might still be held responsible based on an automatic negligence law.
While only half of the United States has a family car doctrine, no state is going to pin the blame on the child if they get in an accident with your car. Most states have negligence laws that blame the parents if there was any good reason why they shouldn’t let the child drive. If you think your child isn’t ready to drive on his or her own yet, think twice before the chances of an accident occurring become too great.
It puts into question how to help your kids learn to drive when all you have is the family car to share. An accident could certainly occur even if you’re sitting in the passenger side while your teen drives. It’s why special care has to be given as soon as you let your kids get behind the wheel in traffic, regardless if you’re with them.
Dealing with the Legal Repercussions
Parental civil liability applies in every state and not just related to driving. Nevertheless, FindLaw says states that have the family car doctrine are going to have limits in the amount of liability the parent will pay. If your child was in an accident and you have a family car doctrine law in your state, be sure to ask your lawyer about what those liability limits are so you can prepare financially.
Keep in mind that some auto policies may exclude a minor from driving a shared family car just to prevent any potential disasters from happening. In the real world where anything can happen, it might be one part of your auto insurance policy that you’ll love outside of lower premiums.