Minors & Driving Paradox

Can someone explain this paradox. A minor cannot enter into any binding contract, yet a minor is granted a license to drive? Does that make any logical sense? Shouldn’t all drivers be of legal age, at least 18 if not 21 to drive?

Minors won’t understand my point. As adults, we are legally responsible, but minors have legal loop holes in their favor. Why?

A driving licence is not a contract, it is a licence to drive a motor vehicle.

You can be held criminally responsible (in this case, driving offences) without being able to enter into a contract.

There would only be a paradox if it were necessary to incur some contractual duty in order to dirve.

A contract is any agreement between two parties. It doesn’t even have to be drafted up on legal paper. The check you take to the bank IS a contract with terms of cashing that can be negotiated and enforced. Once you endorse that check, you have agreed to the terms and conditions.

A driver’s license IS a legally binding agreement between you and your State gov to obide by the laws of the road.

The entire premise of the question is wrong.
Minors are not prohibited from entering into any binding contracts.

Do you believe, Jinx, that is one chooses to drive without a license, one is free to ignore the rules of the road?

Of course not. A license is not “a legally binding agreement between you and your State.” It is the process by which your state grants you the privilege of operating a motor vehicle upon its roads. You violate the laws of the state if you do not operate your vehicle in accordance with the laws of the state. You also violate the law if you drive without obtaining a license to drive in the first place.

Now, in a larger sense, you might argue that all laws derive from the social contract. And we do hold minors accountable to obey the law even while prohibiting them from ebtering into most other contracts.

But that’s the subject of another thread, probably belonging in another forum.

  • Rick

Nickrz, Curious…minors CAN enter into a binding contract? By legal definition, it is NOT binding. In which US State is this premise incorrect?

If you’re driving without a license, then you ARE already disobeying the rules of the road! It’s illegal if you’re caught, as they say!

Driving is a privilege, not a contract. Some states deem minors worthy of this privilege, but most place restrictions on it. All minors have to be insured when they’re driving and almost always it is through their parents. The parents will be on the hook for any damages resulting from an accident.
I don’t see any conflict with the fact that minors cannot form binding contracts.

My 16yo daughter has a checking account. The bank knows how old she is, we went in with her to get it. By your definition, she is breaking the law? I would assume that the bank would not allow her to have a checking account if they were not able to hold her liable.


I think we’ve cleared up the question of whether a driver’s license is any kind of a contract (it’s not).

In most states (I’d venture to say all, but I don’t know that for a fact) contracts entered into with minors are not legally enforceable unless they are for the “necessities of life.”

jazzmine – did you sign anything along with your daughter to permit her to open that checking account?


We probably need to get a few terms straight.

Your daughter is certainly not “breaking the law,” since there is no law forbidding a sixteen-year-old from having a checking account.

When we talk about “breaking the law,” it’s usually understood to mean committing a criminal act.

The issue of whether a minor can enter into a binding contract is a matter of civil law.

In Virginia, a minor may enter into a contract. The minor’s guardian, however, has the power to ratify or reject the contract. (See Virginia Code § 31-14.1(A)(1)). The contract has force and its terms may be enforced against the non-minor party, but the minor party, through his guardian, may reject (or rescind) the contract.

So in a sense, it’s a dicey proposition to enter into a contract with a minor, since you can be held to its terms, but the minor may not.

In general, prinicples of equity will apply. So the minor cannot, for example, enter into a contract to buy groceries, take delivery of the groceries, and then refuse to pay. Even if the contract is rescinded, the grocery seller can recover under the tort of unjust enrichment, without recourse to contract law.

In the case of the bank, they’re not taking that much of a risk. If the daughter issues a check, they’ll pay it. If she issues a check for more than she has in her account, they will dishonor it. They don’t have a huge amount of loss potential here.

At slightly more risk is the merchant who accepts your daughter’s check for payment. But even then, she cannot issue a check and then stop payment with impunity; the merchant can recover from her as in the grocer example above. Moreover, the crime of uttering or of passing bad checks does not require that the actor be over 18… ANYONE who issues a check knowing there are insufficient funds to cover it is guilty of that crime, be they sixteen or sixty-six.

  • Rick

In the I read it somewhere category (Sorry, but I read a lot and don’t always remember where these things that stick in my head came from):

I remember reading (somewhere, of course) that a check is not a contract, and that is why people were able to write and sign checks on Sundays when, at one time, contracts could not be entered into or signed on Sundays. Does anyone have any information that could support or refute that? Perhaps at one time (whatever the time period that contracts could not be signed on Sundays was), checks were not considered contracts?

(I’m fairly sure that nowadays, one can enter into a contract on a Sunday, because that’s when I signed the sales contract when I bought my condo.)

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Bricker says…

In Virginia, a minor may enter into a contract. The minor’s guardian, however, has the
power to ratify or reject the contract. (See Virginia Code § 31-14.1(A)(1)). The contract
has force and its terms may be enforced against the non-minor party, but the minor
party, through his guardian, may reject (or rescind) the contract.

Is that not like co-signing? They are responsible for it?

If you can’t convince them, confuse them.
Harry S. Truman

Melin and others have already said it, but some consequences of the unenforceability of minor contracts are quite interesting, as I learned in my business law class 6 million years ago. For one thing, if you sell a guitar to a 16 year old, and in a spiritual epiphany brought on by the music of Jimi Hendrix and the influence of Mary Jane he smashes it to bits - he can return it for a full refund (rescind the contract). This is why cars (or other very valuable items) are not sold to people who are not 18. A merchant takes some risk when they sell to a minor - but since these facets of the law are so rarely invoked it makes more business sense for them to do business with minors in most cases.

This of course, has nothing to do with the OP.

Wow. So much incredible mis-information…

The enforceability of a contract with a minor is not the open and shut proposition most posters are making it out to be. Thanks to the post regarding VA law, and perhaps Melin could post a more comprehensive comparison of CA law…

Food for thought: employment is a contract, and most states permit employment of minors… do you REALLY think the employer can’t enforce the terms of the employment contract?

I don’t see what the paradox is here. Jin, aren’t you talking about underage people, those 17 & under? It’s true their folks have the power to cancel any contract if they do choose so.

Licenses are permission to do something. They have permission to drive, for example. Where do you infer a contractual obligation from that?

Melin - yes my husband did. I talked to him about it right after I opened my big mouth :slight_smile: and he’s of the opinion that they did it (allowed her to have an account) because ultimately we are responsible.

I guess a good question to be asked is…why would any merchants allow her to write checks if she can’t be held responsible for them?