I have three children who I expect to be responsible drivers, and one (the one who just got her license) to require an almost daily lecture.
I drew up a six page car contract as she got her license this month, and had her sign it before driving the car we helped her get. Going over it in detail with her was painful, but at least I knew she was aware of each point. Topics included: Who ultimately owns the car (us, not her, even though she believes every other 17 year old she’s ever met has been gifted a car); drugs and alcohol; grades and a generally productive lifestyle required to maintain the privilege of the car; general rules (e.g.: Don’t text or fuss with your music playlist while driving, or no car); costs paid by her vs. us; maintenance required by her (daily, weekly, monthly, annually); what to do in an accident; and, financial responsibility for tickets and accidents.
I discussed the impending contract with her in the weeks leading up to license day. I realized that she didn’t fully get “why” I was being so dramatic about things. So, just before I finalized the contract, I added some general definitions I found online (idea being that if someone else says it, maybe it registers; if I say it, much less of a chance).
I found this thing called the “Family Purpose Doctrine.” It’s interpreted differently from state to state, but it sounds official, and the states who don’t apply this specifically still have somewhat similar laws and rulings. Here's what I took from the internet, and interpreted slightly for dramatic effect (note the “imprisoned as an adult” wording):
“Under the family purpose doctrine, parents who lets other family members use a car are liable for the negligence of the other family members, including children, if someone is injured as a result of that negligence. Property damage applies as well. Negligent actions will be brought by and against children as well. Courts reason that a child who engages in an adult activity should be held to an adult standard of care (penalized, sued, imprisoned as an adult).
If a parent lends the family car to a minor child knowing the child is incompetent, reckless, or inexperienced, the parents are liable for damage caused by the child's driving. This legal theory is called negligent entrustment.”
Obviously not every child is the same, and there’s plenty of coaching needed outside of the contract I created. But with car crashes as the leading cause of death for older teens, and knowing my oldest’s “I’m invincible” personality, I’m hoping a little legal jargon will help.
For more things young drivers need to know, check out our Driving DOs and DON'Ts book.