We Should Raise the Driving Age

April 4, 2006

Of course, my 16-year-old self would never agree. But this Virginia mom makes a lot of sense in supporting proposed Florida legislation and other bills to raise the driving age to 17. I would even push it to 18. Sixteen-year-olds aren’t allowed to smoke cigarettes, yet we trust them with what could easily become killing machines?

In a column for the Daily Press, Annette Clifford reports some factoids that keep parents up at night:

If luck holds, all my nights in the foreseeable future will end with that thump of the door and the sound of curfew makers or breakers stomping around the kitchen, scrounging for leftovers before they head off to the sound sleep of youth.

But I don’t dare count on that outcome because I know the statistics and the studies:

How 20 percent of teenagers have an accident in their first year of driving.

How teenagers have twice the death rate in car accidents as the rest of the population.

How the part of the brain that inhibits risky behavior doesn’t mature until the mid-20s.

How teen drivers take more risks and get more distracted when they’re with their friends.

And I know how invincible the young think they are, because I’m getting that drill daily from the next driver-to-be in the family, a 15-year-old who’s counting the hours till the DMV frees him from the Mom taxi.

I remember my 16-year-old sister in a car accident that almost killed her and nearly destroyed my family because it made the front pages of the local press. My parents were mortified. (Yes, even during my sister’s comatose, near-death experience, my parents cared what the neighbors thought.)

Then there was the one student who died every year in my high school and would receive a full-page in memoriam in our yearbooks and their parents would get an honorary diploma on graduation day.

Nowhere else in the world I have traveled are kids allowed to receive driver’s licenses before the age of 18. Why haven’t the rest of us come to our senses?

I understand that teenagers in rural areas need to drive to their retail jobs and socialize. Hey, I lived in a New Hampshire suburb and couldn’t go anywhere without a car. Still, looking back on it now as a mother, the lives lost in my high school, the weeping parents, weren’t worth the $6 an hour I earned at WalMart.