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Parent’s Liability for Teen Car Accidents

Parent's Liability for Teen Car Accidents

Are you a parent of a 16-year-old driver in Wisconsin? Keeping up with the legal aspects of teen driving and ensuring your child’s safety on the road can be challenging.

Getting a driver’s license and driving a car on your own is a rite of passage for teens in Wisconsin. But many young drivers are not yet legal adults, and their parents are still legally responsible, or liable, for any car accidents they may cause.

Unfortunately, teenage drivers are at higher risk of being involved in a car accident. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, although teen drivers (ages of 15 to 20) constitute only seven percent of all licensed drivers, they were involved in 14% of fatal motor vehicle-related crashes in 2019.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), a 16-year-old driver is more than 20 times as likely to have a motor vehicle crash than any other licensed driver [1]. In fact, the leading cause of death among 16 to 20-year-olds is motor vehicle-related crashes.

Are you a parent of a 16-year-old driver in Wisconsin? Keeping up with the legal requirements of teen driving and ensuring your child’s safety on the road can be challenging. Below are tips to help your teen develop responsible driving habits.


Key Takeaways

  • Wisconsin has a Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) program to ensure 16-year-olds gain experience in a safe manner.
  • Parents may face financial liability for accidents caused by their minor children and should take steps to mitigate risk, such as supervising practice driving and understanding potential liabilities.
  • Gruber Law Offices provides legal assistance and representation for families affected by car accidents.


Wisconsin Driving Laws for 16-Year-Olds

An image showing a 16-year-old driver with a licensed instructor, following the Wisconsin driving laws for 16 year olds

In Wisconsin, 16-year-old drivers must go through the Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) program that aims to create safer and more responsible driving habits. This three-stage system consists of an instruction permit, a probationary license, and, eventually, a regular license.

Each stage has specific restrictions and privileges set in place with the goal of providing young motorists with experience before obtaining their full driver’s license.


Parental Responsibilities and Involvement: Can My Parents Be Sued For My Accident?

A car accident with a teenage driver and a car accident lawyer

In Wisconsin, teens need to be sponsored by an adult to get a learner’s permit and then a driver’s license at the age of 16 unless the teen lives on his or her own. The sponsorship, usually by one or both parents or guardian(s), also makes the sponsor(s) responsible if the teenager causes an accident.

Under Wisconsin law (Wis. Stat. § 343.15), parents who sign their child’s driver’s license application assume joint and several liability for the child’s negligent or willful misconduct in operating a motor vehicle. “Joint and several liability” refers to multiple parties (teen and parent) being held liable for the same event or act.

The sponsor’s liability is limited to $300,000 or the limits of any applicable insurance coverage, whichever is more.




  • $25,000 for injuries to one person
  • $50,000 for injuries to two or more people
  • $10,000 for property damage
  • UM coverage of $25,000 for injuries to one person and $50,000 for injuries to two or more persons.


Most families add a teen to their existing auto insurance policy once the teen becomes licensed to drive. Unlike some forms of auto insurance, liability coverage follows the driver no matter whose vehicle is being operated, provided it is an eligible vehicle.

Once a teen turns 18, they no longer need an adult’s sponsorship to obtain a Wisconsin driver’s license. It also becomes possible to put the title of a car in the teen’s name, and the driver can obtain their own liability insurance. The older teen will then be held liable in any car accident attributed to their negligence.

Putting a car and liability insurance in a young adult’s name may be preferable. After a serious crash, an 18- or 19-year-old will likely have few, if any, assets beyond car insurance coverage and the vehicle to attach to a claim. The parents’ assets would then be protected from a personal injury lawsuit growing out of the accident.

Parents' Role with Teenage Drivers

Parents have an important part to play in helping their teenage drivers create and maintain safe driving habits during the GDL process.

Three key responsibilities should be a priority for parents: supervising practice drives, being mindful of any financial liability involved with potential accidents, and making sure the teen driver has proper insurance coverage. Let’s look into each task that is essential for parents of teen drivers.

Preparing young drivers for the road requires constant guidance from adults as learning takes place outside classroom instruction, like understanding safety regulations and judging traffic situations on highways or city streets alike - all supervised by mom or dad who also instill valuable lessons in judgment and caution.

Supervising Practice Driving

As a parent, it is essential that you are engaged in your teen’s driving practice. Being hands-on and offering advice can assist them in forming safe habits when behind the wheel.

You must also take into account that they may replicate your example of being responsible while following all traffic regulations on the road.

Showing them what appropriate behaviors look like by setting a good example will be important for their growth as drivers!

Financial Liability

Parents may be held liable for any accidents caused by their minor children, such as a 16-year-old driver.

This form of parental liability is based on the family purpose doctrine and can include cases of negligent entrustment or vicarious responsibility according to the laws in each state and depending on the particulars of the incident.

To protect themselves from potential liabilities, parents should consider getting additional insurance coverage or having their teens buy cars under their own name as a method to reduce risk for both them and their families.


Insurance Coverage

It is important for parents to verify that their insurance policy covers their teen driver and has all of the right types of coverage; such as liability, collision, comprehensive, or uninsured/underinsured motorist protection.

Failing to secure proper auto insurance can lead to substantial expenses like medical costs and other potential damages in the event the crash occurs involving your child or family member who drives.


Driving Restrictions for 16-Year-Olds in Wisconsin

A car with a 16 year old driver and passengers

For the safety of young drivers and those sharing the road with them, Wisconsin has put in place certain restrictions for 16-year-olds. These rules include limits on passengers allowed, a nighttime driving curfew and laws against cell phone usage while behind the wheel. It is essential both to teen drivers and their parents that they understand these regulations fully and adhere to them at all times. Compliance with these provisions can make roads safer for everyone involved, from inexperienced motorists to more experienced ones alike.


Passenger Limits

In Wisconsin, passenger restrictions have been implemented to curb distractions for 16-year-old drivers. During their probationary period of licensure, those aged 16 can only transport passengers when accompanied by a qualified adult with a license who is 25 years old or older.

Any infringement on the rules could cause fines and potentially lead to suspending driving rights.


Nighttime Driving Curfew

In Wisconsin, a nighttime driving curfew has been implemented in order to decrease the risk of traffic collisions during late-night hours. It restricts 16-year-olds from taking the wheel alone between midnight and 5:00 am without being authorized for trips involving home, school, or work. Violating this law may result in penalizations such as fees imposed on violators, suspension of license privileges, or even prison sentences.


Cell Phone and Texting Laws

In Wisconsin, it is unlawful for individuals aged 16 who possess a probationary license or instructional permit to use their cell phone while driving. No matter the age of the driver, using mobile devices for texting while operating vehicles is not allowed. Consequences can be fines and suspension of licenses as well as other punishments.

Parents should set an example in regards to refraining from being distracted behind the wheel and convey this message clearly to their children - making sure that they understand how crucial following these regulations is.


Traffic Violations and Consequences for 16-Year-Old Drivers

A 16 year old driver being pulled over for reckless driving

It’s essential for both parents and teen motorists to be conscious of any violations in traffic regulations and the penalties attached. In Wisconsin, a 16-year-old is subject to citations if they are caught speeding, operating carelessly on roads, passing inappropriately, or not wearing their seatbelt.

These offenses can incur hefty fines as well as license suspension, depending upon severity. Some cases may even result in criminal charges being imposed against them. Parents must ensure that these young drivers remain aware of such possible consequences so they do not take risks while behind the wheel, which could lead down to an extremely hazardous result.



Parents should emphasize the gravity of staying within speed limits to their 16-year-old drivers. Possible consequences are primarily safety related, protecting the well-being of the motoring public, but may also involve hefty fines from $200 -$800, license suspension, and escalated insurance fees for a time period of up to five years.


Reckless Driving

Parents must educate their teenage drivers on the consequences of reckless driving and instill in them the importance of safe practices while operating a vehicle, especially if they are using a family car. If caught engaging in such behavior, those aged 16 can receive extensive fines as well as license suspension or criminal charges.


Alcohol and Drug-Related Offenses

Parents must inform their 16-year-old drivers of the dangers associated with using drugs and alcohol while driving, stressing the harsh punishments that can be handed down. These penalties may include license suspension, fines, and jail time. It is important to emphasize how serious these repercussions are in order for teens to make responsible decisions on the roadways.


Why Teens are More Likely to be in Car Crashes




  • Distracted driving. Young people are among the most avid users of cell phones, smartphones, and texting devices [2]. More than half of teen drivers in a AAA survey reported using a cell phone while driving, and more than 1 in 4 reported typing or sending a text message while driving in the preceding 30 days. Any activity that draws a driver’s attention away from the road, including phone calls, increases the risk of an accident.


  • Drowsy driving. Teenagers get up early in the morning for school and tend to socialize late into the night, even if it’s online from their bedrooms. Many also work part-time, adding to fatigue. Lack of adequate rest can make a teen driver drowsy and slow reaction time, which can lead to auto accidents.


  • Drinking and driving. In 2016, 15 percent of drivers ages 15 to 20 involved in fatal car accidents had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 percent or higher (the threshold for OWI, or operating a vehicle while intoxicated), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The risk of involvement in a motor vehicle crash is greater for teens than for older drivers after consumption of any amount of alcohol. In a national survey, 20 percent of high school students reported that, within the previous month, they had ridden with a driver who had been drinking alcohol.


  • Inexperienced driving. Despite driver training and Wisconsin’s graduated licensing program, 16-year-old drivers are still relatively inexperienced new drivers. Teens are more likely than older drivers to underestimate dangerous situations or be unable to recognize hazardous driving situations, including icy conditions. Teens are more likely than older drivers to speed and tailgate, two leading preventable causes of car accidents. Teens are also more likely than adults to make critical driving errors or misjudgments that lead to serious crashes. For example, novice drivers who slip off of the side of the road tend to over-correct and steer into traffic.


Tips for Parents of 16-Year-Old Drivers

A family discussing a driving agreement

Parents are key to helping their teens achieve responsible driving for family use. To assist in reducing the risks of accidents, parents should always set a strong example prioritizing safety first at all times. Some people have even considered constructing a driver’s agreement and regularly review how well the teen is progressing as a motorist while teaching defensive techniques.

Proponents of that approach argue that a written contract can serve an important purpose in preparing adolescents to drive with confidence and accountability within the family setting. It must be monitored consistently by the parent(s) so safe habits will remain part of any journey on which they embark together.


Establishing a Driving Agreement

As parents, we should set clear boundaries and expectations for our teen drivers to ensure responsible driving habits.

Obviously, this involves an emphasis on safety as a whole but may also involve establishing a driver agreement that outlines necessary rules such as no texting while behind the wheel, abstaining from alcohol consumption prior to operating a vehicle and avoiding speeding or any form of reckless driving behavior.


Encouraging Defensive Driving

Parents should instruct their 16-year-old children on the essentials of defensive driving to prevent them from being involved in any accidents while they are out on the road.

This includes looking ahead, sustaining a safe gap between cars, avoiding distractions, and being aware of other drivers’ conduct and other safety measures. Taking up an additional defensive driving course might be helpful for teenagers, too, as it can boost security features when behind the wheel.


Regularly Reviewing Driving Progress

Parents should keep track of their teen’s progress in terms of driving and be watchful for any behavior that may require guidance. Staying involved in their development as a driver is essential to help them become responsible while behind the wheel. Providing constructive feedback when needed can reinforce good habits and support safe practices on the road. Regularly assessing your child’s actions will benefit both you, as parents, and your teenage driver alike by helping pinpoint areas that need improvement or reinforcement.


Gruber Law Offices: Car Accident Lawyers in Wisconsin

A car accident with a 16 year old driver

If your family is struck by a vehicle crash involving an adolescent driver, it is wise to acquire legal help from a car accident attorney. Gruber Law Firm in Wisconsin offers assistance and advocacy for families affected by such accidents, including personal injury claim cases. Boasting competence and knowledge of the regulations pertaining to road mishaps in the area, this law office will direct you through every step as they defend your loved ones’ rights and interests effectively.

Driving is an adult responsibility that our society has decided most teenagers can handle. When teen drivers make mistakes or are negligent or reckless, they can be held accountable by the accident report and insurance company. That, too, is part of being an adult.

People injured in accidents with teen drivers can seek help from a car accident attorney to seek compensation for their medical bills, property damage, and other losses. The car accident lawyers of Gruber Law Offices serve all of Southeastern Wisconsin, including the communities of Kenosha, Madison, Racine, and Waukesha. Our legal team is committed to fighting for justice and helping our clients pursue the maximum possible compensation. We are ready to get to work for you. Call our law firm now.

Have you or a loved one or teen been in a car accident? Reach out to Gruber Law Offices for help.

If you have been affected by an accident in Wisconsin, contact us and let us get you the compensation you deserve. We serve all of Wisconsin including Appleton, Wausau and cases from the areas listed below:

  1. Eau Claire
  2. Fond Du Lac
  3. Green Bay
  4. Kenosha
  5. Madison
  6. Oshkosh
  7. Racine
  8. Sheboygan
  9. Waukesha

Call Gruber Law Offices today.  “One Call, That’s All”.


Full Summary

In summary, parents play a vital role in helping their 16-year-old drivers navigate Wisconsin’s driving laws and develop safe driving habits. By understanding the Graduated Driver Licensing program, supervising driving practice, and being aware of potential liability, parents can help their teens become responsible drivers.

Remember to establish a driving agreement, encourage defensive driving, and review your teen’s progress regularly. Don’t hesitate to seek legal assistance from Gruber Law if your family is affected by a car accident involving a teen driver.


Frequently Asked Questions


What are the restrictions for a 16-year-old driver in Wisconsin?


Wisconsin has specific rules in place regarding 16-year-old drivers, which must include having an adult sponsor, completing a driver’s ed class with no traffic violations for six months, and accruing at least 30 hours of behind-the-wheel practice.

Teens are not permitted to drive alone between midnight and 5:00 am unless it is necessary for school or work purposes.


Can a 16-year-old drive with a friend in Wisconsin?

In Wisconsin, a 16-year-old is allowed to take the wheel with a companion if they possess written approval from either their parent or legal guardian.


Can a 16-year-old drive after midnight in Wisconsin?

Driving between the hours of midnight and 5:00 am for 16-year-olds in Wisconsin is not permitted unless there’s an accompanying parent/legal guardian or other qualified licensed person present with them at all times during those hours.


What is the Graduated Driver Licensing program in Wisconsin?

In Wisconsin, the Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) program is put in place to equip sixteen-year-olds with the right skills and sense of responsibility for them to become responsible drivers. It consists of three stages: getting an instruction permit and obtaining a probationary license followed by a regular driver’s license. This process helps ensure that young motorists have all they need to drive safely on roads across America.