While with his driving instructor, a student driver is involved in an auto accident. May the driving instructor be responsible? In Maryland, the answer is found in the 1970 decision of Greenway v. Graft.
In Greenway, 258 Md. 1, 264 A.2d 818 (1970), a 16 year old student driver was out in a Prince George’s County “driver education car” with her instructor, a coach and faculty member at her high school. The car had “dual brakes.” This device was designed to allow the instructor to make an emergency application of the brakes from the instructor’s side of the car, in case the driver failed to do so. After driving around for an hour, the instructor directed the novice driver to enter a service station to get gas for the car. The vehicle operated by the young woman entered the station and made a wide turn. When the student mistakenly placed her foot on the gas pedal, the vehicle accelerated and headed straight towards the service station manager who was standing next to a vehicle filling up at a pump. Although the instructor applied the brakes on his side of the car and nearly brought the car to a stop, the car struck the manager and the vehicle. A suit against the student driver and instructor followed.
The Court stated that “a driving instructor cannot be held liable for the operator’s negligence if he himself is free of negligence.” However, “one who undertakes to teach an unlicensed operator to drive may be liable for injury to a third person caused by the operator where he does not act as a reasonably prudent driving instructor, in teaching or supervising the pupil, or where he fails to take the proper precautions.”
In the Greenway case, the Court found sufficient evidence to support a finding of negligence on the part of the student driver. To the surprise of some, it reached the same conclusion as to the driving instructor. The Court wrote: “To allow a neophyte with only a few hours training to drive a car into a service station and to make the conspicuously erratic maneuvers . . . is, in our judgment, quite enough to support a verdict against him.”
Driving is a dangerous activity. That’s especially true for student drivers who are novices behind the wheel. Those acting as driving instructors – including parents – should take their supervisory responsibilities seriously. If a student driver is involved in an accident while under the supervision of a driving instructor, the instructor may be liable in negligence if he or she failed to exercise due care in teaching and supervising the student driver.