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Lamber: Your freshman’s home for the holidays – hold onto the car keys for a minute


I’m at a crossroads. My son is coming home from college in New York and I’m worried about giving him the keys to the extra car we purchased when he was in high school. He drove it every day back then but hasn’t been behind the wheel at all since August.

That’s not the only reason why I am really worried.

I’d venture to say that college has been an eye-opening experience for not only our kids but also for many of us parents sending our children out of the house and into a new world as a freshman.

Of course, COVID, but also the other new and dangerous things they are trying for the first time (or maybe not the first time). A friend of mine told me about his 19-year-old daughter who came home for the holidays and wanted to play drinking games.

He said he felt like Steve Carell when he had the wax ripped off his chest in the “40-Year-Old Virgin.”

My friend is worried that when his daughter is home for winter break, she’s going to ask for the keys to the extra family car and disappear for hours at a time at night with her friends. While maybe he is naïve to think that she’d never been to a party with alcohol when she was in high school, it’s more real for him now.

I know that when my son comes home, one of our first conversations will be about boundaries and limits when it comes to alcohol and other controlled substances, like recreational marijuana. These kids are smart. We’ve instilled good values in them.

We should trust them. And we need to help them understand that if they test their limits when it comes to alcohol and marijuana, they could devastate their lives, their friends’ lives and the lives of people they don’t know — forever.

I know there are some who are reading this column and thinking that we need to let our teenage children screw up and find their own way. Maybe, but to what extent? Consider the law in Arizona.

Here, we have something called The Family Purpose Doctrine. It’s been around for 100 years and imposes civil (e.g., financial) liability on parents who let their children borrow the family car for a so-called “family purpose,” which is interpreted very broadly, and when their child causes an accident injuring someone else.

It may not matter if the parents placed rules and restrictions around their child’s use of the vehicle. In most cases, the parents will be found responsible for the negligent actions of their child driver while operating a family vehicle.

Moreover, it may not even matter if their child is over 18 years old.

As a personal injury lawyer for 30-plus years, I’ve seen the results of making poor decisions and getting behind the wheel, time and again. Those decisions can cause permanent injuries, or worse. Once the damage is done, it cannot be reversed.

Have that conversation with your newly minted college student when they get home for winter break.

In addition, check your automobile insurance and make sure everyone is properly covered and insured for a sufficient monetary amount.

Editor’s note: Marc Lamber is a director at Fennemore Craig and chairs the Personal Injury Practice Group.