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”.