Should the age to receive a driver’s license be raised and, if not, should graduate licensing be instituted? This is a growing question across America as well as other countries around our globe. The percentage of teenage accidents involving automobiles is on a constant rise. Whether caused by the lack of experience or under the influence of alcohol, death has become all too common among teen motorists. This problem is not going to go away by itself; action needs to be taken.
The state must raise the age requirement to receive a license or institute graduated licensing because teens are not mature enough to handle the dangerous responsibilities of driving.
We allow teens to get their licenses at an earlier age than in most countries, and little driving experience typically is required before licenses are issued. This is not very smart on our part considering that according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 16 year olds have the highest percentage of crashes-involving speeding, the highest percentage of single vehicle crashes, the highest percentage of crashes with driver error, and the highest vehicle occupancy (NHTSA).
Compared with older drivers, teenagers as a group are more willing to take risks and less likely to use safety belts. Many experts blame the young teens’ immaturity, impulsiveness, and lack of proper training and experience as contributing factors to the high rate of teen involved accidents. Teens don’t need to be victims of their driving inexperience. During 1975-96 the death rate among 16 year-old drivers was trending upward.
The rate increased from 19 per 100,000 in 1975 to 35 per 100,000 in 1996, and this increase occurred in both males and females. The number of 16 year old driver deaths increased about 50 percent during 1975-96 (from 362 to 547 annually) while deaths among 17-19 year olds declined 27 percent (CNN). “Any way you look at it, 16 year-old drivers represent a growing problem,” adds Allen Williams, senior vice president of the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (CNN). Accidents that involve 16 year-old drivers are not like those involving older drivers. For one thing, 16 year-old get in trouble trying to handle unusual driving situations, even small emergencies. More often than when older people drive, such situation turn into disasters. Eighty-two percent of all 16 year old-drivers in fatal crashes during 1996 made at least one driving error that contributed to the crash. This compares with 68 percent of drivers 17-19 years old and 52 percent of drivers 25-49 years old (CNN).
Training and educating programs can help teens learn driving skills, but these programs do not produce safer drivers. The only thing that’s taught in driver education is how to drive legally and not responsibly. It’s often not poor skills that cause the crashes in the first place. Its teenagers’ attitudes. A vast majority of teens are thrill seekers, thinking they are bullet proof and invincible. “Thus the potential for death and destruction is great” (Grant14). Teens naturally tend to rebel against adult standards and regulations. Peer pressure influences teenagers much more than advice given by an adult. Today’s teachers have either forgotten or they ignore the fact that 16 year-old drivers show off as soon as they get in the car with their friends. Teen passengers can be a big distraction encouraging the driver to tailgate or pass inappropriately, increasing the chance of a crash.
Raising the age to receive your driver license would be a giant leap in the direction of reducing the number of accidents, not to mention fatalities caused by immature teenage drivers. “The percentage of accidents involving teenagers drops each year from age 16 to 19” (CNN). The only sure way to lower teenage involved accidents, not to mention fatalities, is to raise the legal driving age. Teens are restricted from voting and purchasing tobacco until they reach the age of 18 years old and teens are not allowed to purchase alcohol in the United States until they are 21 years old. These restrictions are mandated because Americans reason that teens are not mature enough to make responsible decisions. Shouldn’t this reasoning apply also to driving a one ton automobile 60 and 70 miles an hour plus down a highway? Sixteen-year-old teens need time to mature before driving a loaded gun down our neighborhoods.
Teenagers are not only inexperienced drivers, they’re inexperienced drinkers too. And when adding the two together it makes a deadly combination. “Drinking and driving is the most often committed violent crime in the nation and a significant cause of death among our youth” (Golden 106). One strategy to deter teenagers from drinking and driving is the Zero Tolerance Law, also known as the “Use it and loose” law. This law takes away the privilege of driving from anyone under the age of 21 caught drinking and driving. Parents can play a major role in reducing teen drinking and driving by offering a way out. They can sit down with their teenager and discuss with them the option of calling home for a ride when they or whoever else in the group driving has been drinking. The parent must do his or her part though, by promising to not discuss the matter until everyone has calmed down. If Ryan Sanders would have called home for a ride he would still be alive today. Ryan was only 18 and he had his whole life ahead of him. He had plans of going to school at University of Texas and was excited about it. But, one night he had been drinking and decided to drive himself home. On his way home Ryan missed judged a turn and rolled his mustang into a ditch. He was not wearing his seat belt and was thrown through the window killing him instantly. Police said that if he would have been wearing his seat belt that he might have survived. Ryan was a friend of mine; we would have graduated from high school together.
What can parents do? As a parent, one of the most important things you can do for your teenage driver is to spend as much time as possible helping them to mature behind the wheel. Parents should discourage the teen from allowing friends to ride along in the car with them or limit the number aloud to ride until they have had enough supervised practice. Insist that they are to wear seat belts at all times. Limit your teen’s driving during high-risk times of the day and limit the area a teen can drive. Set curfews for your teen and encourage your teen to use good judgement. Parents can also use 4MYTEEN, a teen driver’s monitoring service. Designed by Officer Tom H. Deats of the Arlington Police Department, this tactic uses a bumper sticker which reads “HOW’S MY DRIVING-CALL 1 800-4MY-TEEN”,
and is placed on the car that the teenager uses. This encourages other motorist and pedestrians to call the number and report how the teen is driving, good and bad. “Teens who complete an entire year with 3 or less complaints are eligible to compete for a scholarship, which can be applied toward the teen’s college education (4MYTEEN).”
Another program that has recently been introduced to the United States is “Graduated Licensing”. This program is doing extremely well and has had a positive effect on teen driving. Graduated Licensing is a conditional or intermediate license given to teens between a learner’s permit and a regular license. “This system was designed to introduce beginning drivers to progressively more extreme driving conditions (nhtsa).” Graduated licensing has firm restrictions and laws that must be followed by the new driver. Including six months of crash free and conviction free driving, a zero tolerance for blood alcohol concentration, and no driving between midnight and 6 a.m. without authorization. The hours between 9 p.m. to 6a.m are the most common time for accidents involving teenagers, “accounting for forty-one percent of teenage automobile accidents in 1997(CNN).” The program also uses color code licenses and a mandatory successful completion of a driver education course. Some violations can be waived depending on the circumstances if the teen writes a 3 thousand word essay on safe driving. “There are three stages in graduated licensing: a supervised learners period; an intermediate license (after passing the driver test) limiting unsupervised driving in high risk situations, and a full privilege driver’s license given only after the first two stages are completed” (NHTSA). The NCUTLO (The National Committee on Uniform Traffic Laws and Ordinances) model law calls for a minimum of six months in the learner stage and a minimum of six months in the intermediate stage with night driving restrictions.
A new driver also has restrictions on the amount of passengers allowed at a given time and the beginning driver must drive a minimum number of hours before they can receive their license. All beginners need time to sharpen their skills and this program gives just that. Driving is a skill that is harder to acquire than most teens think and they cannot learn how to drive overnight. It takes time to mature into a responsible decision-maker.
Today’s teens seem to lack the maturity and responsibility needed to safely operate an automobile. Most teens say that the system is not fair because it keeps teenagers from obtaining a license. It is easy to appreciate why teens feel this way, until you consider the statistics. They show over 6000 teens, aged 15 to 20, died in car collisions last year (nhsta).
Risk taking is at an all-time high and when teens take the time to gain more experience behind the wheel chances are they will have a healthier future. The state does grant waivers for teens needing to get to work or school activities during restricted times. Teens driving to work are less likely to have young passengers causing all kinds of distractions riding with them. Parents enjoy this program because it gives them piece of mind that their aggressive driving teen will not be on the road during high risk hours. Parents also enjoy not having to fight with their teen over when to have the car in because the state sets the curfew and it is the law. There are always the parents though, who do not care and cannot wait to stop chauffeuring around their teens so they lie by signing papers stating that their teen has completed the minimum amount of supervised hours in a car. States that participate in programs such as this have found that the benefits exceedingly outweigh all cost. One state that has seen drastic improvements is Oregon. “In Oregon, administrative cost were estimated at $150 thousand and the benefits were estimated at almost $11 million making the benefit to cost ratio better than 74 to 1”(nhsta). “License to Learn” is another similar program that is advocated by AAA. License to learn also uses three stages. Teens can be issued a learner’s permit after passing a vision and a knowledge test. Once the teen has received the permit, driving is legal if accompanied by someone of at least 21 years of age and can not carry any other teens as passengers. The teen would be limited to daytime driving only as well as take a driver education class. Parents are required to be a part of and even give some of the training. If the teen completes six months without a violation or accident then the teen is eligible for an intermediate license. The teen then would be allowed to drive at night with supervision of someone age 21 or over and an advanced driving course must be taken. Again, parents would be expected to help with some participation and no more than two additional teens could ride along as passengers in the vehicle. When the teen turns 18 a full license could be obtained if the driver has completed at least 12 months with an intermediate license and has no accidents or violations (Vehicle choice).
Driving is a privilege, and should be treated as such. Too many people treat driving like a constitutionally protected right; driving is too serious an activity to be placed in the hands of teenagers who do not know what they are doing, regardless of how much training teens may receive. Raising the required age to receive a driver license or instituting graduated licensing is a must if the United States wants to save the lives of teenagers. This would also lower the number of teen involve accidents that occur every day. Driving is a huge responsibility for persons of any age and the choices that are made by teen drivers could make the teen years the best of times or the worst of times.