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Attorney Van O'Steen

Parent Liable for Teen Driver's Acts

Van O'Steen

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Although a 16-year-old legally may obtain a driver’s license with the cooperation of parents or guardians, he or she is not yet an adult.  This raises serious questions about the minor’s ability to be financially responsible for car accidents he or she causes.

A little-known Arizona law imposes potentially great liability on the parents or guardians of children younger than 18 who receive a driver’s license in this state.

Anyone younger than 18 who applies for an Arizona driver’s license must have the application signed by at least one parent if both have custody of him.  If only one parent has custody of the child, only that parent must sign.  Under some circumstances, guardians, employers or other responsible persons may be permitted to sign the application.

Without the proper signatures, a driver’s license will not be issued to anyone younger than 18.

An adult who signs for a minor’s driver’s license application assumes responsibility for any damage the minor may cause while operating an automobile, including causing injuries to others.

The parent or guardian’s financial responsibility under this particular law can be satisfied by doing the same thing you do to protect against the financial risk associated with accidents and injuries you may cause—insure against it.

If you are the parent or guardian of a minor whose driver’s license application you signed, you should do three things.  First, be sure your insurance carrier is informed that your child may be driving your cars.  If the minor owns a car, be sure insurance coverage extends to it.

Second, always maintain adequate automobile liability insurance coverage.  Although the state law does not require this much, limits of $100,000 per person and $300,000 per accident should be considered minimum protection.

Finally, see that your children are trained in the proper operation of automobiles and, to the extent you can, control their driving behavior.  Continually emphasize the importance of defensive driving to avoid accidents.

In an extreme situation, it may appropriate to withdraw or cancel your authorization.  If this occurs, the minor’s license will be cancelled.

The specific financial responsibility imposed on the person signing the license under this particular law is eliminated if the minor’s license is cancelled.