Behind the Wheel
Texas parents may be liable for negligent teenage driver accidents.
By Paul Cannon
A Houston teenage driver is facing a felony charge of failure to stop and render aid after fatally striking a homeless man in late October, then fleeing the scene. The 16-year-old driver hit the pedestrian as he crossed the street near Gessner Road and Westview Drive.
While any fatal accident is shocking, this one isn’t necessarily surprising. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says drivers aged 16 to 19 are nearly three times as likely as older drivers to be involved in a fatal motor vehicle accident. Drivers aged 16 and 17 are even more dangerous than slightly older drivers. The danger is greater for many reasons, including:
Lack of experience slowing a young driver’s critical decision-making ability;
A less developed ability to recognize hazards in time to safely adapt;
A tendency among young drivers to follow more closely than older drivers; and
The fact that a young driver may be significantly impaired by a very small quantity of drugs or alcohol.
In some states, parents are automatically deemed responsible for the
negligence of their teen (minor) drivers. However, Texas law is not as
straightforward. When a teen driver’s negligence causes property damage,
the teen’s parents are legally liable if the negligent conduct of the
child is reasonably attributable to the negligent failure of the parent
or other person to exercise his or her duty of control and reasonable
discipline of the child. (The Texas parental liability law establishes
liability for property damage caused by a teen under these
circumstances, but a parent may be liable for personal injury or death
as well if the parent negligently entrusts the vehicle to the teen who
the parent knows to be a reckless, unlicensed, or intoxicated
So, for example, a parent who allows a teen to take the family car out at night knowing that the teenager lacks the requisite skill to make the drive safely, has a tendency to drive recklessly when unattended, or is likely to consume alcohol before driving home would likely be responsible under Texas’ parental liability law. On the other hand, a parent who has every reason to believe that his teen is a safe driver and entrusts a well-maintained family car to the teen to make a short drive to the local grocery store likely will not.
Tips for Parents of Teenage Drivers
First, make sure that your teenage driver is insured immediately after receiving his or her driver’s license and before taking the car out. Though Texas law doesn’t require specific coverage for teens driving with a licensed adult on a learner’s permit, a licensed teen driver is subject to the same minimum automobile insurance requirements as any other driver.
Second, talk to your teen about safe driving—especially issues that are known to disproportionately impact teen drivers, such as following too closely, distracted driving, and alcohol. According to the CDC, about 16 percent of drivers aged 15-18 involved in fatal crashes in 2016 had been drinking alcohol.
Third, familiarize yourself with your teen’s driving ability level and the level of responsibility and attentiveness you can expect. Receipt of a driver’s license doesn’t necessarily mean your teen is ready to drive solo in every context. Know your young driver and make decisions accordingly.
Help for People Injured by
Negligent Teenage Drivers
If damages caused by a young driver exceed insurance policy limits, establishing parental liability may be the only means of recovering fair compensation. If you’ve been injured in an accident with a teenage driver, it’s to your advantage to talk with an experienced personal injury attorney as soon as possible.TBJ
This article originally appeared on Simmons and Fletcher’s Texas Personal Injury Law Blog and has been edited and reprinted with permission.
has practiced personal injury trial law since 1995. He is certified in personal injury trial law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. Cannon is a shareholder, trial lawyer, and online marketing manager at Simmons and Fletcher. His legal writings have been published by the Texas Bar Journal, Business.com, Lawyer.com, HG Legal Resources, Lawfirms.com, and others. For more information, go to simmonsandfletcher.com.