Raise The Driving Age To 18?

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Is 16 too young to (legally) drive?

If you’re 16, you probably think not. But it’s those over 16 – adults like the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s Adrian Lund – who will get to be the Deciders on this one. Lund and some others want to push the age at which a person can get their first driver’s license to 17 or even 18.

Well, why not 21 while we’re at it? 

Lund – a professional nag who heads an organization of nags – says that teenage drivers are a menace to themselves and others and wants to use the billy stick of the federal government (via withheld highway funds) to compel states to raise their legal driving age to 18 – just as the billy stick of federal money was used to impose the ridiculous 55 mph speed limit, virtual Prohibition of alcohol and (most recently) “primary enforcement” seat belt laws.

This time, it’s not merely “for the children” – it actually involves them.

And Lund is partially right. Teenagers do get into more than their fair share of wrecks. But is this due to their age – or their lack of training/experience?

There are some very young professional race car drivers – from NHRA to NASCAR. Maybe not sixteen-year-olds, but not far removed. At 15 or 16, some of these kids are already better drivers than most of us will ever be.

Granted, these are exceptional kids – but the point’s not invalid: Experience and training probably matter at least as much as the driver’s age.

Will merely raising the age of eligibility for that first license to 17 or 18 give a kid more experience – or less?

Maybe the age at which we begin to train kids to drive should be lowered, not raised.

Consider: Does it make more – or less – sense to toss a kid with zero hours behind the wheel a set of car keys at 17 or 18, when he is inches way from being legally free of any parental oversight whatsoever?

Maybe it would be smarter to begin teaching kids how to drive around 14 or 15 – easing them into it gradually, and with years of parental or other adult supervision – so that by the time they are 17 or 18 they have three or four years of real-world driving experience behind them. That experience would arguably make them better – and thus, safer – drivers. And that would be a blessing all around.

That’s actually the way it used to be done, too – until institutions such as public skools took over from parents and the whole process became bureaucratized, officialized – and not surprisingly if you follow the natural course of such things – utterly incompetent and counterproductive, too.  

Driving is, after all, a learned skill like any other. It is not mastered overnight – or after a few weeks of classroom instruction by a public skool hack and a couple of hours in the seat – most of that spent driving around cones in the parking lot.

Logic says: Start them sooner, not later.

But that would make sense – and making sense is what IIHS is not all about. It exists to harp over problems often directly ginned up by its own propaganda. Mandatory buckle-up laws are an example of this. Ditto the neo-Prohibitionist crusade that has gone way beyond a legitimate effort to deal with drunk drivers that now mercilessly prosecutes people with negligible amounts of alcohol in their system – as little as .06 or even .04 BAC, levels that have little if any correlation with actual accidents

What would make some sense when it comes to stacking the deck in favor of new/teenage drivers is proper instruction. What we do in this country – for the most part – is woefully inadequate. Many parents set poor examples – or are simply ill-equipped to properly instruct their kids in safe/competent driving. Ditto the so-called “schools” (especially those offered by the public skools) and the at-best cursory testing done by most DMVs before that first license is issued.

We don’t really show kids how to drive in the sense of actively controlling the car, learning to anticipate problems and being prepared to react correctly to them. We don’t teach kids how to handle emergencies such as a slide on black ice. We don’t show them – in a real car, on a real road – how to safely keep the car under control if a wheel drifts off the pavement and into a rut on the shoulder.

Instead, a bored driver’s ed instructor robotically chants cant at them that “speed kills” – the driver’s ed equivalent of the fearmongering about “marihuana” that’s peddled to them in those Just Say No sessions. Kids, of course, are smart enough to see through this – but they’re also immature enough to then regard everything they’re taught by adults as either exaggerated or 100 percent bogus.

This is dangerous.

Far better to really teach them – and to be honest with them.

I’d be ready to lay down a bet that if you took an average 14 or 15 year old and had him or her trained by an expert instructor such as Bob Bondurant or Skip Barber and then properly supervised for a year or two during which time a provisional license is granted – after which the kid would still be monitored and quickly reined in at the first sign of reckless or incompetent behavior until age 18 – a great deal of the “teenage driver” problem would just disappear.

Problem is, there’s no money in that. Finding solutions to problems is not what IIS wants. IIHS wants crusades that never end. Just like Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Just like politicians.

Because there’s money and power in that.

Throw it in the Woods?

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  1. All that raising the age does is create older inexperienced drivers who have been taught all the wrong things and overcome the scare tactics quickly.

    Have real driving courses… including track time at/near the limits in a safe environment and start it early. But that means real education instead of useless fear tactics. A kid could actually experience sliding off the track with no harm done instead of sliding into a school bus and killing himself.

  2. I’d argue that any driving age over 14 is basically irrelevant. In fact, it is rarely teenage drivers that are Clovers or unsafe in my opinion. It’s soccer moms in their SUVs talking on the cell, or grizzled oldsters in their Mercury Medicare sleds.

    I do agree that driving school teaches almost nothing about actual driving. What it does do is similar to normal K-12 school: teach you how to answer questions on a test. They just want you to know the rules on the road, not how to actually drive a car or avoid an accident.

    I race motorcycles myself, so I understand how this argument applies even more to a motorcycle endorsement, which teaches you basically how to maneuver your bike into a parking spot and little else.

    • With teens it’s probably lack of experience/judgment that’s the most common probem – not Cloverism. Cloverism seems to be an affliction much as you describe it. I also ride (weekend track days, too) so ah feeel your pain on the bike stuff. I never – ever – trust an SmooVee. It is a sure bet that its driver is paying no attention and about to blow through a red light or turn right into you without even glancing to see if there’s anyone in that lane…

  3. here’s the deal for everyone. yall are exactly right about laws. people were more responsible then, with less laws. Why? Because it was just you taking care of you. You didnt wear a helmet when you rode your bike…because you sure as hell took the damage when you fell. But it was those skinned up knees and elbows, the strawberries across our stomachs that taught us that we had better PAY ATTENTION to our surroundings, ie the road, looking for potholes, etc, when we rode or we would get messed up. The same with cars. Do you know how many young people cannot drive a manual transmission nowadays? I taught myself. Its not difficult. But what laws do today…what overprotective parents and overprotective societies teach people is timidness, sheltered, and to not make things difficult, or to actually use their brains.
    But. And i don’t know how many times I gotta say this: There’s too many people on this earth.

    • Agree. Population – especially population density – is a big “driver” in terms of both reducing individual liberty as well as encouraging herd-like behavior. Herd animals rarely show individual initiative or resourcefulness;they just do whatever the other herd animals are doing – even if it’s running over a cliff.

      The other factor here in my opinion is that we’re getting more and more of the less desirable people, too. People with lower IQs, especially. The system we have encourages dumb (and dumber) people to breed – and breed more prolifically – while discouraging smart (and smarter) people from breeding at all.

        • Hey, Eric,

          You need to run another survey…

          It is considered politicly acceptable to question a teenagers ability to drive at 16,even though they might be mature and responsible.

          At the other end of the driving spectum are those who should not be on the road anymore. I am talking about senior citizens.

          Many seniors drive just fine, and should continue to drive until there is a problem. I feel that after age 70 or so, that there should be a driving competency exam every year or two. If they pass, no problem. For many people, they can continue to drive well into their 80s.

          Other seniors,such as the Clovers, should either have a limited license, such as daytime only and no freeway, or should have their driving license revoked.

          Unfortunatly,the teenagers do not vote, and are not politically connected, while their grandparents are.

          By the way, I am 56 years old.

      • “Herd” animals are often called “Lemmings”, although lemmings aren’t necessarily suicidal, I think the term sounds better 🙂

        ..and the at-best cursory testing done by most DMVs before that first license is issued.

        Shit.. no kidding. It’s all just a numbers game, the minimum necessary training and testing to get the numbers through and so the gubberment regs are happy.

        During my 7 year Army career, I had the good fortune of taking some defensive driving courses for car and bike. It didn’t teach me much more than I already knew about physics and tyre pressures, it’s definitely worth it – but ONLY when you can regularly practice the maneuvres, something the Gestapo don’t like on OUR public streets and highways for some reason.

        I recently got my Nephew into a course. Hopefully he learned something.

        Army driving courses are much more comprehensive and, you DON’T need a civvy licence to get one (you can be 17)! If you’re pulled over by a civvy cop in an Army car or truck, you just give ’em this slip of paper with codes on it. No photo or anything. Should see the looks we get – priceless.

        I did manage to teach a few Army noobs truck driving in Mercedes Unimogs (http://www.ausairpower.net/ADF/Unimog-Australian-Army-2005-2S.jpg) back in ’90. The entire story of just one day is a bit too long but a huge laugh. So I’ll share a small tidbit:

        We were out the back of the Blue Mountains in New South Wales on dirt tracks. The noob I was teaching only had a bike licence and never drove anything with 4 wheels, which was obvious. Not only did he lean into the corners, but when he’d manually wind up or down the window to chuck a smoke, he’d jiggle the steering wheel too and leave us wiggling down the road. Ugh!

        I remember my days back in ’86 being tested for a bike license, which requires more hoops to jump through than a car ticket.

        At one point, you’d have to ride at a certain speed toward 2 red lights, one either side. One light would switch on and you’d have to swerve TOWARD it. Fat lot of good that does you when it’s a real brake light off a car eh? I wonder what moron dreamed that up. Someone that’s never driven in traffic I bet.

        I dunno about now, but back then we had to pass ONLY a written test, then we got our “L” plates (minimum 17yrs and 9 months – how the HELL that makes a difference I dunno) and were allowed to fling ourselves around the roads for a minimum of 3 months (maximum 12 – again.. WHY??). If we survived, we’d undergo some street and inner compound testing before we got our “P”‘s, which used to last a year until full licence was automagically awarded.

        That full year, because of make-busy by successive Transport Ministers having to show something for their pay, changed to 2 years eventually and successive ministers have their hand in the pot changing shit ever since. Dangerously lowered speed limits for “L” plates are the norm here, probably even for the “P”‘s by now.

        I know that these days bike training requires a proper course, which is probably for the best.

        I remember a small cartoon from Easyrider magazine decades ago where the guy behind the desk says: “Lemme see.. Ya wanna register a vehicle with only 2 wheels, one headlight and metal protrusions all over it?” 😉

  4. My dad taught my brother how to drive at 15 before he got his license and his first car…which he was also required to work to pay for. He got his license at 16 and by the summer of his 18th birthday had worked for the car he would be driving back and forth to college. The lessons my Dad instilled in him took and the fact that he had to work for his first car only furthered my Father’s good advice.

    I was not as fortunate as my brother. I didn’t learn how to drive till I was 20 and my father didn’t teach me. It was thought in my family that driving was not necessary as much for daughters as for sons. Presumably they expected me to have a chauffeur all my life as they also expected me to marry a doctor or lawyer. I’m afraid I disappointed them on both counts as I opted for becoming self-sufficient instead. Part of which included my learning how to drive.

    In any event, the guy that first attempted to teach me started me out on a stickshift (MG). No matter how hard I tried I never got the hang of it. It always died on me. The more frustrated & impatient he became, the more I screwed up. I will never forget that yellow MG. Talk about an exercise in futility…it was a nightmare and I hate stickshifts to this day.

    I eventually wound up with another neighbor who said I needed to learn to use an automatic first. He was a wonderful teacher and a good driver himself. He knew the importance of driving defensively and stressed it. He was also wonderfully patient which helped to instill the confidence I needed (which was at a pretty low ebb by that time). I’ve been driving an automatic ever since and never had one accident and despite the fact that I learned at a later age. To that end, I’m not sure whether the age at which you learn is as important as WHO teaches you when you’re starting to learn.

    I was just thinking about how times have changed so much…all the laws, the helmets, the seatbelts, the this, the that. It seems people were more responsible then with less laws than they are today with more laws.

    How very lucky I was to grow up in a time when a kid didn’t have to dress up like R2D2 just to ride his bike, much less harness himself like a horse just to be able to drive the car he worked and paid for. Once upon a time, that was the dream they called America.

  5. I agree with the concept that it is best to start driving as early as possible. Oregon allows a learners permit on the 15th birthday. Provisional license at 16. I took my son to DMV a week after his 15th birthday. He first learned to drive a stickshift, then gradually learned to drive at all speeds, under all conditions. He drove for an entire year, and 5000 miles,while being monitored, by me. He learned a lot. By the time he turned 16, I knew that he was ready, and I did not need to worry about him. It has been ten years since then. One (technical)speeding ticket.

    Delaying driving till 18 really does mean less supervision. My mother learned to drive when she was 50 years old. I was 17 when I taought her to drive the car I had worked for and bought myself. She was involved in several accidents. Defensive driving courses might have helped.


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