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An Era of Un-Road-Tested Drivers: What Parents and Their Insurers Need to Consider In Light of Georgia’s Changes to the Licensing Process During COVID-19

Posted on: May 5th, 2020

By: Wayne Melnick and Janeen Smith

Georgia’s on-the-road driving test joins the ever-growing list of changes to life as we know it as a result of COVID-19.   A new generation of drivers will be hitting the roads in Georgia soon, and they will not have taken any practical on-the-road test to get their licenses.  On April 23, 2020, Governor Brian Kemp waived the requirement for on-the-road tests until the Public Health State of Emergency is terminated citing social distancing requirements as the rationale for the waiver.  According to news sources, the road-test waiver will also alleviate a backlog of up to 30,000 applicants waiting to upgrade their learner’s permits to provisional driver licenses.     

Driving applicants are not getting a free pass as they will still be required to to satisfy all other statutory requirements for obtaining a license, i.e., a passing grade on the written test on driving safety and law, a certificate of completion of a 30-hour driver’s education course (for 16-year-olds); and, 40 hours of supervised driving time (for 17-year-olds).  Applicants can take advantage of Georgia’s waiver of the on-the-road test until June 12, 2020 when the twice-renewed state of emergency expires.

Georgia’s waiver of the on-the-road driving test has received widespread media attention.  It has been heavily criticized to the extent the waiver relies on parents executing Driving Experience Affidavits certifying their children have enough experience to obtain a license.  To some extent, Georgia’s licensing process has always involved a degree of trust.  Whether Georgia’s group of drivers who skipped the on-the-road test are any less safe than their tested counterparts remains to be seen.  After all, sources show roughly 80% of applicants pass the over-the-road test during their first attempt. 

That being said, cutting out an independent third-party’s assessment of a young driver’s readiness for the road could nevertheless have serious liability implications for parents and their insurers.  Arguably, the waiver of an on-the-road test heightens the importance of a parent’s execution of the Driving Experience Affidavit as it is currently the only assessment of a young driver’s actual abilities.  It does not take much imagination to conceive of the liability ramifications for parents. 

Consider negligent entrustment, a liability theory predicated on a vehicle owner’s “actual knowledge” that the individual entrusted with the vehicle is either incompetent or habitually reckless.  A claim of negligent entrustment is always a fact-intensive inquiry.  But, Georgia parents with minors licensed during this period of loosened licensing requirements will likely face heightened scrutiny for their children’s accidents.   

How can parents minimize their exposure during these unprecedented times? And how can insurers help minimize their risk by alerting their insureds with soon-to-be-licensed teens? All things considered; the answer is much the same way as they would before.  Our recommendations are:

  • Lead by example and always practice safe driving habits;
  • Instill the importance of being observant.  Studies show 50% of driver-error crashes are caused by a lack of scanning surroundings, being distracted, or failing to reduce speed in response to other drivers on the road;
  • There is no substitute for practice.  The law requires your child to have 40 hours of practice, but you ultimately make the decision as to whether your child may need more practice;
  • Does your child think he or she is ready for a driver’s license?

Ultimately, there is no way to make your young driver (or yourself) liability proof.  However, there are many ways to minimize risk.  Georgia’s ditching of its on-the-road test could simply be a waiver of a technicality; or it could provide to be a breeding ground for creative liability arguments.  Our intent is to continue monitoring developments on this front and to keep you appraised of ways to minimize risk. 

Additional Information:

The FMG Coronavirus Task Team will be conducting a series of webinars on Coronavirus issues on a regular basis. Topics include real estate issues, business interruption losses, and more. Click here to view upcoming webinars.

FMG has formed a Coronavirus Task Force to provide up-to-the-minute information, strategic advice, and practical solutions for our clients.  Our group is an interdisciplinary team of attorneys who can address the multitude of legal issues arising out of the coronavirus pandemic, including issues related to Healthcare, Product Liability, Tort Liability, Data Privacy, and Cyber and Local Governments.  For more information about the Task Force, click here.

You can also contact your FMG relationship partner or email the team with any questions at [email protected].

**DISCLAIMER:  The attorneys at Freeman Mathis & Gary, LLP (“FMG”) have been working hard to produce educational content to address issues arising from the concern over COVID-19.  The webinars and our written material have produced many questions. Some we have been able to answer, but many we cannot without a specific legal engagement.  We can only give legal advice to clients.  Please be aware that your attendance at one of our webinars or receipt of our written material does not establish an attorney-client relationship between you and FMG.  An attorney-client relationship will not exist unless and until an FMG partner expressly and explicitly states IN WRITING that FMG will undertake an attorney-client relationship with you, after ascertaining that the firm does not have any legal conflicts of interest.  As a result, you should not transmit any personal or confidential information to FMG unless we have entered into a formal written agreement with you.  We will continue to produce education content for the public, but we must point out that none of our webinars, articles, blog posts, or other similar material constitutes legal advice, does not create an attorney client relationship and you cannot rely on it as such.  We hope you will continue to take advantage of the conferences and materials that may pertain to your work or interests.**

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