According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the risk of fatal motor vehicle crashes among teens aged 16-19 is nearly three times what it is for drivers 20 or older. That level of risk increases when there are teen or young adult passengers riding in the vehicle. In fact, motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death among Americans aged 15-24, just edging out drug overdoses.
When an unlicensed teen takes the wheel, these risks increase further. A tragic example of this is a recent case from Pittsgrove, NJ, where a 16-year-old unlicensed driver was charged with aggravated manslaughter and vehicular homicide after he allegedly ran a stop sign and crashed into a tree, killing his 15-year-old passenger.
Responsible Adults Can Also Be Charged
In the Pittsgrove case, a 50-year-old woman has been charged with two counts of endangering the welfare of a child for allegedly giving the unlicensed teen permission to use the car that was involved in the fatal crash.
According to New Jersey state law, a parent or guardian can be found guilty of endangering the welfare of a child when they cause a child “harm that would make the child an abused or neglected child” (§ 9:6-8.9). An “abused child” in New Jersey includes anyone under 18 whose parent or guardian “allows to be created a substantial or ongoing risk of physical injury” to the child “which would be likely to cause death.”
Potential punishments for endangering the welfare of a child are severe. Depending on whether or not the adult had a legal duty to care for the child, penalties range from 3 to 5 years in prison for conviction of a third-degree crime, to 5 to 10 years in prison for conviction of a second-degree crime.
Other Adult Responsibility Laws
The news reports do not mention whether alcohol played any role in the fatal Pittsgrove crash. But parents and guardians should be aware that in New Jersey, a parent or guardian who allows an underage minor to drive while intoxicated can be charged with a DWI just as if the adult had been the one driving. And an adult who serves or makes alcohol available to an underage drinker can be convicted as a “disorderly person.”
Civil Liability Awaits
New Jersey's social host liability law allows someone who is injured by an intoxicated guest 21 years of age or older to sue and recover damages from the host. Separately, where the intoxicated guest is under 21 and injures someone or damages property, the host can be sued for negligently serving the alcohol to the underage guest. These suits inevitably are expensive, time-consuming, and disruptive to everyone involved, and inevitably require the injured parties to relive the painful experience over and over.
If Charged With Adult Liability, You Need Help
If you or another adult you know has been charged with a crime in New Jersey as a result of providing a minor with access – whether to a vehicle, to alcohol, or to any other thing that may have resulted in harm to another – you need the help of an experienced criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible.
New Jersey criminal defense attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm have the experience and determination to help you mount a thorough and effective defense against charges that you are responsible for the criminal acts of a child or underage drinker. Call 888-535-3683 or use our contact form to set up a consultation today.