On August 1, the driver of a stolen vehicle struck and injured ten people near Grand Central Terminal while attempting to evade police.

In March, five SUV occupants, including the driver, were killed in a Westchester County crash on the Hutchinson River Parkway. Just a month earlier, also in Westchester, a vehicle crashed head-on into a school bus, causing multiple injuries.

What do these seemingly unrelated crashes have in common? All were the fault of drivers who did not have a New York state license.

Crashes involving unlicensed drivers are surprisingly common, and they raise legal issues that should be discussed with a New York car accident attorney.

Young Drivers Are a Risk, Even When Licensed

Teen drivers are statistically more likely to be involved in car crashes than other drivers—and that’s when they’re licensed.

According to the New York State Department of Health, teens are more likely to underestimate, or not recognize, dangerous driving situation due to inexperience. The youngest drivers, sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds, are at the highest risk of a car crash during the first months of unsupervised driving. Young male drivers are particularly dangerous to their fellow motorists.  

New York’s Graduated Licensing (GDL) laws are intended to help new drivers gain experience under low-risk conditions and the supervision of a parent, guardian, or driving instructor. Junior drivers with a learner permit can only drive in New York City between 5 AM and 9 PM. Junior license holders (Class DJ or MJ license) are prohibited from driving in the City’s five boroughs, but may drive in Nassau and Suffolk counties, with or without supervision depending on the circumstances.

Cracks in New York Teen Driving Laws

Drivers who violate the terms of their learner’s permit or junior license face having them suspended or revoked for 60 days. A News 4 investigation, however, has exposed cracks in the system, including backlogs and loopholes in state traffic laws that enabled a 19-year old driver with a learner’s permit to hold onto it, despite a history of serious violations.

The teen driver was reportedly driving over 100 mph on the Cross County Parkway in Mount Vernon, a road that is off-limits to drivers with a learner’s permit, when he crashed, killing two passengers and causing permanent injuries to a third. The driver also had no insurance and no licensed supervising driver in the vehicle.

Eleven months earlier, he crashed while driving on another restricted road and received two tickets. But without a conviction, DMV could not revoke his permit, which it finally did—two years after his first crash.

New York State Senator Michael Gianaris has proposed a bill that would no longer require a conviction to impose a 60-day suspension for permit holders 18 and older. The bill also lays out new grounds for suspension. If a permit holder is believed to have caused injuries or deaths, the bill would seize the vehicle’s plates until the case is resolved.

“Drivers with learner’s permits continue to cause death or injury and the laws have not caught up to that danger,” said Gianaris.

Unlicensed Drivers and Accident Liability

In New York, parents typically are not liable for injuries their children cause, unless the parents acted negligently. For example, if they loan their vehicle to their teenage driver, and the teen causes an accident, the parents may be legally responsible.

The chances of parents being held liable may increase if their child was unlicensed and required driving supervision. But even if a child is licensed, and has a track record of dangerous behavior, such as traffic violations, or should not have been driving (e.g., they had a suspended license or were drinking), the parents may have acted negligently if they allow the child to drive their vehicle.

New Yorkers are considered adults once they turn 18. However, there is no age limit for children listed on their parents’ car insurance policy, as long as they live at home. A young driver can face criminal liability as an adult for a crash that injures or kills others, but related insurance issues may still go through their parents’ policy if they’re listed on it.

Adult Unlicensed Drivers

It’s not just unlicensed teen drivers who pose a public safety threat. Unlicensed drivers of all ages account for a disproportionate share of deadly crashes.

A study from AAA found that, over a two-year period, around 1 in 5 fatal crashes involved an unlicensed or invalidly licensed driver, resulting in more than 21,000 deaths. Invalidly licensed drivers include those operating with a valid learner’s permit but without a licensed adult passenger.

New York No-Fault insurance (i.e., Personal Injury Protection), property damage liability, and uninsured motorist coverage, which state law requires, follow the car, not the driver.

Someone without a valid driver’s license is unlikely to have car insurance. However, victims injured by an unlicensed driver should be able to access benefits through their own insurer, even if they are riding in someone else’s car at the time of the accident.

Problems could arise if the unlicensed driver was using a stolen vehicle, as was the case with the Midtown Manhattan driver who struck multiple pedestrians. In this scenario, the coverage policy would likely refuse to cover a claim associated with a stolen vehicle. But this might only be an issue when the victim is eligible to go outside the No-Fault system and sue the at-fault driver.

If the driver doesn’t have liability insurance to cover lawsuit damages, they may be personally liable. As a last resort, compensation may be available from the New York Motor Vehicle Accident Indemnification Corporation (MVAIC).

Helping New Yorkers Injured in Car Accidents Since 1967

Injured in a car crash? Get the help and support you need at The Sanders Law Firm, one of the largest, most aggressive, and most successful personal injury law firms in New York. Call 855-SANDERS or contact us to schedule a free consultation.