Captain Obvious Reports: Sixteen-year-olds Maybe Shouldn’t be Licensed

Last week I heard a news story on the radio warning that sixteen-year-olds are too young to drive. According the the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a research group funded by the auto insurance industry, car crashes are the biggest reason kids die. They recommend increasing the licensing age.

According to an article I read, “More than 5,000 U.S. teens die each year in car crashes. The rate of crashes, fatal and nonfatal, per mile driven for 16-year-old drivers is almost 10 times the rate for drivers ages 30 to 59, according to the National Highway Safety Administration. Many industrialized countries in Europe and elsewhere have a driving age of 17 or 18.”

I don’t think that’s news to any of us, is it? These young teens are inexperienced, somewhat lacking in judgment and have a sense of invulnerability that has them take risks that perhaps they shouldn’t. New Jersey, the state where I grew up and got my drivers license, is the only state that says you must be seventeen to be licensed. And some states are as low as fourteen!

Now that’s surprising to me. Not that I loved waiting until seventeen. I was just as impatient as the next kid. Still, I was pretty mature, and I don’t think I would have been ready to fly solo at sixteen. And we’ve all been next to these youngest drivers on the road, watching as they have twelve people stuffed into the back seat of their Corolla, music blaring just enough to rupture the nearest eardrum, giggling and talking on their cell phones…

Graduated licensing, which has become the standard across the country in the past 15 years, requires teens to spend more time driving with a parent or other responsible adult before they go solo. Though these rules are sometimes difficult to enforce, many states tie these more stringent standards to declining teen crash rates. That’s a good thing, too. But is it enough?

In my years as an insurance agent I was the one who added the child to the parents’ policy, and I was the one who filed the claims as they came in. And came in they did. I thank G-d that I never had to report that a child had died, as I was in tears, struggling to maintain professionalism when I spoke to the families of adult clients that had been fatally injured in crashes. A child would have been…impossible.

Proponents for keeping the age at sixteen say that driving helps kids learn responsibility, and that increasing the age will make them less responsible. I do agree that it can be part of helping kids learn responsibility, but I don’t think that it follows that kids who have to wait an extra year are less responsible. In some cases I’ll bet they are more responsible…like when they have wait because they need to earn the money for their own insurance and car. A strategy which will be utilized in this household.

See, safety isn’t the only reason to have them wait to get licensed. Cost is another factor. I recall being seven months pregnant and daydreaming about the son that was soon to be born whilst blow drying my hair. All of a sudden I had an unhappy epiphany. “Oh. My. G-d. I’m going to have to pay boy car insurance rates!!!!”

Now that I’m a parent I realize that my responsibility to prepare my son to get his drivers license has many facets. Yes, he needs to know the mechanics of starting the car, switching gears, parallel parking, all of which he will be taught, ad naueum. He also needs to know and understand that cars, insurance and gas cost money. He will understand that because he will earn the money for all of the above before he’s permitted to get his license.

But that’s not all. He needs to understand that he’ll be driving more than a ton of metal, and that gives him not only the responsibility for his own life but the life of anyone in his car, and every other driver and pedestrian on the road. He needs to have empathy, and to know that getting there safely takes priority over getting there quickly. He needs to be secure enough in himself that he doesn’t need to show off for his friends by peeling out or doing donuts on someone’s lawn.

He needs enough of all of the above to not get behind the wheel when drinking. He also needs to not get in someone else’s car when they’ve been drinking, and have the strength and sense to prevent them from driving at all.

The thing is, no state law is going to teach my son these things. Only Husband and I can. So though I wouldn’t mind seeing the driving age raised, it’s really a non-issue to me.

Because we will decide when Son is ready to be licensed, not the state. I don’t care if the law says 14, 15, or 17 . Son will not drive until we, as parents, agree that he is ready. We are the law of this land. And we shall be fair and reasonable, and unafraid to say “No”.


12 Responses to “Captain Obvious Reports: Sixteen-year-olds Maybe Shouldn’t be Licensed”

  1. Kacie Says:

    Exactly! My sister thinks that simply because she’s 17, she deserves her driver’s license and a car. She was not happy that our parents made her wait until she was 17 to even get her license.

    My parents aren’t happy about the huge increase in insurance.

    She doesn’t have her own car, and won’t until she can buy it herself. She borrows my parents’ cars because hey, she does need practice.

    I hope she grows out of this entitlement phase. It’s so unbecoming. πŸ™‚

  2. Mike Says:

    Girls gigling, lots of people stuffed in a car, sounds more like college kids than high school. Kids raised correctly are mature enough to drive at 16. How many adults over 20 kill someone because they are drunk driving. we should be working to teach our children responsibility not using the laws to hide bolster/replace our parental decisions. If I live on a 300 acre farm in Iowa my son needs to be able to drive to conduct family business. I don’t need the law to make him a criminal for trying to help his folks out. Its more about parental responsibility. Raise em right end of story

  3. zsirrom Says:

    I would consider myself to be responsible as far as teenagers go, i’m almost 17. I know plenty of teens who I would honestly be afraid to be in a car with b/c of how irresponsible they are with the simplest of things. To group all teenagers together isn’t fair to those of us who strive to be responsible and be the best that we can be. I currently have two jobs, one of which I have had for a year and a half, I’ve only missed work once and been late twice. 2 out of 3 of those incidents were out of my control(sickness and traffic).

    In the state that I live in teens are required to have 40 hours of daytime and 10 hours of night driving experience while having a learners permit, and have held the learners permit for 9 months before they are eligible for a license. I will say that the Drivers Ed curriculum is way too easy, and as a result of that there are teens driving who really shouldn’t be. Its a sad thing that teens are given a license with out taking into account their grades in school, how well they behave in school and various other factors that could help to weed out some of the less responsible teens that make everyone else look bad.

    Just a friendly comment on the whole teens driving issue from the perspective of a teen who does drive.

  4. BeThisWay Says:

    @Mike –

    You were obviously never a high school girl if you think girls don’t giggle and drive in overcrowded cars. Then again, maybe they grow girls differently in Iowa than in New Jersey.

    I completely agree that you can’t generalize about all kids. Many are responsible. And I’m totally with you that it is about parental responsibility, and the ability of each parent to gauge whether or not their child is ready.

    Thanks for your comment!

  5. BeThisWay Says:


    Very astute, Z. If you were my kid, I’d likely let you get your license.

  6. aimiesuzyj Says:

    Having a daughter of 14, I was completely in favor of raising the age of license. But then I realized that a child who doesn’t start driving until 17 has just one year of driving experience before she leaves for college. She will be have a vehicle in college and she will go to a college that is out of town. I would rather trust her at a younger age than send a new driver out on her own. Further, I did not have a car in high school and I would do anything to avoid having my parents drive me anywhere. This led to more than one unsafe situation. Unfortunately, there is no good solution to the dangers young drivers face.

  7. γ³γ£γγ‚Š Says:

    While the stat about how many teens die in accidents gets attention, I’m more worried about how many fatalities they cause. Good luck keeping yours properly educated and prepared. Safety first.

  8. treadmarkz Says:

    Ok so maybe not raising the age limit but just giving them more strict tests to pass before given a license so we can weed out the irresponsible ones and the idiots.

  9. γ³γ£γγ‚Š Says:

    Treadmarkz, I agree that it is far too easy to get licensed in America. We treat driving as a right instead of a privilege.

  10. zsirrom Says:

    it is definitely way too easy to get a license in America, not only that but you can get a license as a teen without anyone looking at how you’ve done in school, if you’ve been in trouble with the law and various other things that should be red flags. I’m not saying that all kids who get bad grades or have been in trouble are irresponsible and shouldn’t have a license. But we should at least look at those factors and possibly either not give those kids a license or develop some kind of system to determine who should and shouldn’t be driving…same thing should go for everyone whether you are 16 or 65

    Yes drivers-ed is wayy to easy, that would be a good first step towards keeping teens and various other people who shouldn’t be driving off of the road.

  11. copyeditorsdesk Says:

    My son ran a red light and total two vehicles in addition to crashing his own car…exactly one day after he got the car in his 16th year. Mercifully, no one was hurt.

    Why did he run the light? He too involved with talking with his friends who were riding in the car to notice he was coming onto one of the largest intersections in the city. He was not an irresponsible, stupid, or scatterbrained kid; in general he took good care of things, got good grades in school, and was pretty level-headed.

    IMHO, 16-year-olds should NOT be driving, period. They do not have the kind of judgment needed to navigate streets populated by other human beings whose behavior needs to be watched and assessed moment by moment. Nor do they have the judgment needed to assess their own behavior.

    Our son never got into another accident, thank G-d. But after that day, it was years before I stopped worrying about him, and I’ve always regretted that we allowed him to get a license at that age and worse, gave him a dangerous weapon to take to the streets. Dumb and dumber!

  12. Carnival of Money Stories « Funny about Money Says:

    […] This Way Are You Going to Be This Way the Rest of the Time I Know You? Captain Obvious Reports: Sixteen-Year-Olds Maybe Shouldn’t Be Licensed Roger […]

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