Teen Driving Accidents

Those of us who were once teen drivers, and who as parents raised teen drivers, recognize the risks related to inexperience and immaturity. It seems a wonder that any of us or our children made it to adulthood unscathed.

Due to lack of experience driving, teen drivers[1] are more likely than older drivers to not recognize or underestimate dangerous situations, or to make errors of judgment that lead to serious crashes. Due to inexperience and youthful enthusiasm, speed and tailgating are common causes of teen drivers’ auto accidents.

Male teens are statistically more accident prone than female teen drivers. The CDC reports that among male teen drivers[2] involved in fatal crashes in 2014, 36% were speeding and 24% had been drinking[3]. Many adult men with memories of adolescence can recall personal examples. However, girls as well as boys can have lead feet and dangerous driving habits, as parents of girls can sometimes attest.

Teens who are new to staying out late on their own, driving and drinking often have a lot to learn about responsibility in those three adult realms and inappropriately combining them. In 2014, 50% of teen deaths from motor vehicle crashes occurred between 3 p.m. and midnight and 53% occurred on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday. All levels of blood alcohol concentration (BAC), increase the risk of motor vehicle crashes for teens more than for older drivers. The same year, 17 percent of teen drivers involved in fatal motor vehicle crashes had blood alcohol content of .08% or higher[4]. A survey in 2015 reported that, 20 percent of teens had ridden within the previous month with a driver who had been drinking alcohol. Among teenage students who drove, 8 percent reported having driven after drinking alcohol within the same one-month period.

Atlanta injury lawyer Ken Shigley has handled cases in which teen drivers were under the influence of alcohol, drugs or both, while listening to extremely loud music. In one, a newly licensed teenage girl tested positive for alcohol and a variety of interacting drugs when she pulled out from a stop sign directly into the path of a man riding his motorcycle home from work.

Most teens drive cars or pickup trucks provided by their parents, covered by whatever insurance the parents purchased. When a negligent teen driver is sued for injury or death of another person, the teen’s parents may also be sued under the “family purpose doctrine.” In Georgia, the standard for holding a vehicle owner liable for another family member’s negligent driving is authority and control There are four factors that are generally considered in that determination:

  1. the defendant (usually a parent or grandparent) must own or have an interest in or control over the vehicle;
  2. the defendant must have made the automobile available for family use;
  3. the driver, such as a teenager, must be a member of the defendant's immediate household; and
  4. the vehicle must have been driven with the permission or acquiescence of the defendant.

In one Georgia appellate court decision, a father who provided his child a car could be responsible under the family purpose doctrine, even though the child had disobeyed his father and let a friend drive, provided that, at the time of the collision, the child was in the car and “retain[ed] control, authority, and direction over it.” But in another Georgia case, the court rejected a parent's liability under the family purpose doctrine where the teenage child asked a friend to take the vehicle alone to perform an errand for the child, and the friend was involved in a collision. “In no case in Georgia has it been held that the parent is liable when the son or family member was not in the automobile and directing its use . . . .”

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[1]https://www.cdc.gov/motorvehiclesafety/teen_drivers/teendrivers_factsheet.html

[2]https://crashstats.nhtsa.dot.gov/Api/Public/ViewPublication/812278

[3]https://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/data/yrbs/pdf/2015/2015_yrbs-data-users_guide_smy_combined.pdf

[4]https://crashstats.nhtsa.dot.gov/Api/Public/ViewPublication/812231