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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:
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.
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