DennisBeaverNovember 5, 2016 • By Dennis Beaver

Today’s story attempts to answer a question that is becoming relevant to our aging population of grandparents in this era of cars with highly advanced accident avoidance technology:

As a condition of being allowed to spend time with grandchildren, can parents require that the kids are driven in, not just a sound vehicle, but — assuming grandparents can afford it — one that has some of the newest accident avoidance systems widely available at a reasonable price?

If it has been some time since you’ve shopped for a car, the amount of technology in today’s automobiles is truly amazing, and increasingly entry-level cars have several of the following safety features which prevent collisions:

Forward-collision warning, automatic emergency braking, pedestrian detection, radar cruise control, lane keeping assist, blind-spot warning, lane-departure warning, backup camera, fully automatic parking, telematics, which sends out automatic notification of an accident to first responders.

“Grandpa Scares Me When He’s Driving!”

“10-year-old Ryan is crazy about his paternal grandparents, and they just adore him,” Santa Rosa reader “Helen” writes. “They live in rural Humboldt County, and, not only are their roads dangerous, but it is almost a four-hour drive, each direction.

“Last year my husband died, and his parents — Mom and Dad as I call them —have been a blessing for Ryan and me, spending a great deal of time with us in a home that still feels so empty. I want Ryan to be with them as often as they desire, but I am very concerned about his safety when in their 10 year old jalopy of a car.

“After spending three weeks in the summer, Ryan told me, ‘Mom, when Grandpa drives, he scares me. He drives a bit too close to other cars, too fast, and seems to have some problem keeping in his lane. Also, when driving to a place that is new to him, he’s gotten lost a few times. I had to use my phone’s GPS to get us back on the right road. Grandma was upset with him and said that he needed a new car with navigation!’

“I want them to have all the visitation with Ryan that they would like. They are very well off but more than frugal, verging on being miserly. Am I within my rights to insist that they buy a new car that has some of the latest safety features which would reduce the chances of a wreck? If they refused and went to court, what would a judge likely say?”

We ran this question by Hanford Family Law attorney Jeff Levinson who was quick to point out a common misconception that grandparents have about their visitation rights.

“Many grandparents are under the mistaken belief that they have an absolute right to see their grandchildren, but that is not the law.

“Family Code Section 3104 tells us that before a court will order grandparent visitation, it must be shown that a strong bond exists already, and that it is in the best interest of the child. Also, we need to balance the best interest of the child in having visitation with a grandparent with the rights of the parents to make decisions about their child.

“In general, while the parents are married, grandparents can only file for visitation rights when:

1. The parents are indefinitely or permanently living separated;

2. A parent’s whereabouts are unknown or is incarcerated;

3. One of the parents joins the grandparent’s petition for visitation;

4. The child does not live with either of his or her parents; or

5. The grandchild has been adopted by a step-parent.

“However, your reader’s situation paints this wonderful, loving relationship, and she wants her son to spend time with them. It’s really touching, but that said, she has legitimate concerns about Ryan’s safety,” Levinson was quick to point out.

Getting lost and having to rely on your 10-year-old grandson as navigator, in addition to the other driving issues Ryan described, are serious matters. Levinson believes, “When satisfied the grandparents have the financial means, a judge would no doubt condition visitation on the purchase of a vehicle with GPS and many of these latest accident avoidance features.”

But the Hanford attorney offered another suggestion. “When next together, Ryan’s mom should say, ‘Dad, do you think our little guy should be driving with you in that old car? Let’s go to a car dealer tomorrow and get a nice, new car with GPS and this new batch of safety equipment. Ryan would be so happy!’ “

Helen agreed to give it a try and we’ll let you know the outcome.

Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.