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Car Accident Liability for Junior Vehicle Operators

Junior Vehicle OperatorsIn Massachusetts, young drivers generally obtain a junior operator license after their learner’s permit. This license gives drivers ages 16.5 to 18 years of age the opportunity to operate a motor vehicle. Similarly, New Hampshire drivers between the ages of 16 and 21 years receive a Youth Operator license. In both cases, these drivers are subject to a few extra restrictions and obligations. Here’s a closer look at the junior and youth operator licenses and liability issues.

Obtaining Youth and Junior Operator’s License

To obtain a junior operator’s license, you must have had a learner’s permit for at least six months, completed an approved driver education and training program, and driven a certain number of hours under the supervision of your parent or guardian. You must also pass a written test. During the first six months of having your junior operator’s license, you can’t transport any passengers under the age of 18 years unless they are immediate family members or you have a licensed driver over the age of 21 with you. You also cannot drive between 12:30 a.m. and 5:00 a.m. unless a parent or guardian accompanies you.

In New Hampshire, drivers must take a driver’s education course, complete a certain number of supervised driving hours, and pass a test to obtain a youth operator’s license. With this license, minors can’t drive alone between the hours of 1:00 a.m. and 4:00 a.m., and up to their 21st birthday, these drivers may have their licenses suspended for a variety of offenses, including building up demerits on their driving record.

Insurance Requirements

All Massachusetts and New Hampshire drivers are required to have car insurance. Youth and junior operators need liability coverage for bodily injury, property damage, personal injury protection, and uninsured motorists, but to be on the safe side, they may also want to have comprehensive and collision coverage as well as coverage for underinsured motorists. They should also consider getting bodily and property damage coverage above the legally mandated limits.

Statistically, teens are three times more likely to get into an accident than drivers over the age of 20. To protect your family financially, you should always ensure that teen drivers are well insured. As a general rule of thumb, insuring a teen driver is more expensive than insuring an adult driver. Parents can add teens to their own policies, and in fact, many insurers require you to add all licensed drivers who live in your home to your policy. The only way to get around this requirement is to buy the junior operator their own car and insure them just on that vehicle.

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Failure to List Licensed Drivers

If you fail to list licensed drivers on your insurance policy, your insurer may refuse to pay your claim in the event of a car accident. In fact, even if you are insured and you are driving, the insurer may still refuse to pay a claim if you have an uninsured junior operator in your home. In this situation, you may end up being personally liable for any costs incurred due to the accident.

However, some insurers will accept exclusions. You must submit an exclusion form to the insurer declaring that the junior operator will not ever drive your car and that you want them excluded from your policy.

Driving Without Insurance

If your teen driver takes your car and they are not listed on the insurance, you are responsible. In some situations, your insurer may cover the accident under the “guest driver” rules of the policy, but as indicated above, the insurer may not be legally required to cover these accidents. As a result, you may end up being personally liable. In other words, you may have to cover the cost of the accident with your assets and wages.

Even if your teen takes your car without permission, you can still be held responsible. Parents are often liable for their teens’ actions. The argument in these situations is that you are responsible for watching your child. If your child sneaks out, takes your car, and grievously injures someone, you may be to blame from a legal perspective. In some cases, you may escape criminal penalties, but you may still be civilly liable.

Finding the At-Fault Driver

Unfortunately, teens are often perceived to be irresponsible drivers regardless of how careful they are as individuals, and if a teen is in an accident, the other driver may rely on that stereotype to cast blame on the teen. However, if the teen didn’t really cause the accident, the other driver should be held liable. In these situations, you should consult with an attorney. They can find witnesses or proof of who was at fault, and they can help to ensure that the teen doesn’t have to bear the liability for an accident that they truly didn’t cause.

If you have a teen driver, you should take steps to help them be as careful as possible on the road. Remind them not to text and drive and to minimize other distractions. Also, keep in mind that you may be liable if they are in an accident. Make sure they have adequate insurance on your car or their own car, and if you decide to exclude them from your policy, make sure that you follow the rules of the exclusion and never let them drive the excluded vehicles.

Unfortunately, accidents can happen. If your teen has been in an accident or if you have been in an accident with a junior operator, you may need legal help. To set up a free case evaluation, contact us today. At Mazow | McCullough, PC, we help clients after auto accidents as well as after a variety of other types of injuries.

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