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One of my continuing goals with this blog is to raise awareness among parents and other adults who supervise teen drivers, especially about items that are hidden, or for some reason not obvious or well known. One of these is the fact at in the United States there is no consistent practice among state Motor Vehicle Departments with regard to notifying parents if their teen drivers get a ticket or a citation for moving violation. In fact, although I haven’t researched all 50 states, my educated surmise is that there are few if any states that automatically provide such information to parents or guardians, and a few that allow parents to sign up for such notification, but the vast majority who do nothing in this regard at all. Most likely, this failure to notify occurs because state governments are not set up administratively to provide notice, or state officials assume that parents will find out on their own. New York State is notably one that has a system for which parents can sign up for email notice of some types of infractions when under-age-18 drivers obtain a license.
If a teen is arrested, it is hard to envision that parents or guardians will not find out, but the situation is different with tickets or citations where the teen driver is allowed to continue driving from the spot of the traffic stop. Typically, when law enforcement issues a ticket, the ticket goes to a central processing facility (either county, regional, or statewide), which then mails to the driver’s address a notice of license suspension (relatively rare) or a fine or penalty (far more common), along with a court date on which the driver can contest the ticket. Thus, whether parents find out may depend on whether they monitor their teen’s mail. In states that have moved to email notifications, of course, there will be even less likelihood that parents find out through the central processing facility’s notification. It is also possible that a ticket or citation that is not contested and becomes a conviction, or becomes a conviction after a court hearing, may be reported to an insurance company, and a higher premium might be the parent’s notification. We should also bear in mind that once a teen turns 18, the so-called “age of majority,” a variety of additional legal and privacy rights kick in, and a parent or guardian may not be legally able to be informed of any driving violation.
There are a variety or procedural possibilities here, and it is impossible to summarize how these situations are handled across the country. The point for parents of teen drivers is that every state is different, and you should inform yourself of what your state’s rules and practices are; and if there is any way that you can have your state’s motor vehicle department or court system report to you if your teen receives a ticket or citation for driving misconduct, by all means sign up to be notified. Tickets or citations are huge red flags for parents and guardians. As noted in my post “Traffic Tickets As Teaching Moments,” April 7, 2010, parents and guardians not only need to use such occasions to increase their oversight and reinforce warnings, but indeed to overhaul their teen’s driving privileges. But parents and guardians cannot take these steps if they don’t know that a ticket or citation has been issued, or if they only find out weeks or months later — or after a crash.