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Teens Gone Wild: Spring Break, Beach Week and the Law

It’s three o’clock in the morning and you are rudely awakened by the phone. Your heart lurches into overdrive, and you scramble to answer the call. It’s the police department in Spring Break Town or Beach Week City, USA, calling to inform you that your teen is in legal trouble. What do you do?

Okay, let’s back up a bit. If you have decided to allow your teen to go on a road trip without adult supervision, or even with another family, listen up. Before your child leaves, have a serious discussion about rules and consequences of breaking those rules. Here are some considerations:

Trouble with the police.
Spring break and beach week trips provide many temptations for teens to break the law, perhaps too many for most to resist. There are the obvious curfew and alcohol violations, which, if discovered by law enforcement, will likely result in criminal justice repercussions. But many local ordinances also come into play, and different cities vary in consequences. Teens can be ticketed or arrested for behaviors such as loitering, or sitting on the sidewalk and blocking access to the public.

Destruction of property.
Here’s a cocktail party term for you: vicarious liability. It basically means that one person (read: parent) can be responsible for the acts of another (read: child) in certain circumstances. In Virginia and Florida, likely spots for spring breaks, parents can be made to pay for destruction of property by their children. The most common issue here? Damage to the hotel or vacation rental. It can add up very quickly, and you may be on the hook to pay the bill.

Driving liabilities.
I don’t know about you, but when I was a teenager, I let my friends drive my car all the time. If you were my friend and you had a driver’s license, chances are I would let you get behind the wheel. What I didn’t know is that lending your driving privileges often means lending out your insurance as well. Translating to road trip language: Your teenager could let a friend drive your car, that friend could get into a fender bender with a Bentley, and your insurance may have to foot the bill. Which means your insurance premiums will likely increase. You may be able to recover some of those costs, but doing so will be an uphill battle at best.

And what to do if you get the early morning phone call from the police? Call your attorney. When criminal charges are involved, it’s not the time to try and handle things yourself. Criminal records are serious, and defending your child against accusations is best left to professionals. If you do not have an attorney or your child is arrested out of state, contact the local bar association, or a trusted friend for a referral.

Prevention is, of course, the best prescription here. Before your teen heads off for a week of sun and sand, discuss all rules of the trip, and possible consequences of breaking those rules. Request a nightly check-in phone call, and get cell phone numbers of your teen’s travel companions. Finally, let’s hope this generation of teens has a heck of a lot more common sense than we did, and that they can have a fun and safe spring break or beach week experience.

Kelly Hall, Esq., is a full-time mom and part-time attorney. Through Legal Ease in RFM, she contributed articles about family law, legislation, and other legal issues for four years until she moved out of the area with her family in 2014.
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