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Teenager and Driving

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  • Pages: 9
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  • Category: Driving

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One of the most important safety issues in the United States is how to protect people on the roads. Each year thousands of Americans die in vehicular accidents and among that group are thousands of American teenagers who die in accidents each year, which has spawned one of the more controversial movements towards safety in the country: raising the legal driving age from 16 to 18. The movement is not without merit and deserves a strong perusal by Americans around the country, despite the fact that most teenagers disagree with it. In order to save lives, the legal driving age in the United States must be raised to 18 and more laws regarding teenage driver put into effect as we as a country move towards making our roads safer for drivers of all ages.

            The strongest argument for raising the legal driving age is the astounding statistics about teen drivers. Not surprisingly, car crashes are responsible for the most deaths of teenagers in the United States today. “About 6,000 teen drivers are killed in auto accidents each year–more fatalities for this age group than those caused by guns and drug overdoses combined” (Henderson, 2006). Within the course of the last nine years, teenage drivers killed over 30,000 people across the nation, “of which 36 percent were the teen drivers themselves” (AAA, 2006). These young drivers have a fatality rate that is “four times as high as that of drivers 25 to 29” (AAA, 2006). So what does this mean for the safety of teenagers on the road?

Truthfully, all of the statistics and all of the research supports a legal driving age of 18 years old because it is clear that young drivers are more at risk, not only because of their inexperience, which is a large part of the concern of many, but because teenagers are more apt to take risks on road and show off to their friends. Sixteen year old Leanne Smith of Williamsport, Maryland echoed these sentiments: “Sixteen-year-olds do stupid things when they’re driving. They show off for their friends. If kids had to wait until they were older to get a license, there wouldn’t be so much of that” (Rinaldo, 2005). Automobiles are a deadly weapon and yet most states let teenagers get their driver’s permit at the age of 15 and begin driving on their own at 16. Without changing the way teenagers learn to drive they will never be any safer (D’Amico and Korokna-Palicz, 2006). The key to creating good drivers is to

            By raising the legal driving age and rethinking the way that teenagers receive their license in the first place, the country may be able to make their roads safer and keep their young people alive to see their eighteenth birthday. In fact, there is evidence that even one year can make a difference when it comes to teen driving. New Jersey is currently the only state in the country with a legal driving age of 17 and the result is a “much lower mortality rate than the rest of the country” (Rinaldo, 2005). One of the biggest problems with teen driving is the way in which teenagers are getting their licenses. Driver’s education is obviously not working to teach teenagers how to drive safely and not take risks on the road. The way driver’s education is currently set up is, in the eyes of many experts, dooming a teenager to fail as a cautious, good driver. Young people are not getting the instruction behind the wheel that is necessary, especially not the one-on-one time that learning a skill like driving requires. Driver’s Ed students spend most of their time reading driver’s safety manuals and listening to the teacher, who often does not have time to give each student the individual time that they need (Zuber, 2006). “Traditional driver Ed produces kids who can’t drive but think they can because they have ‘earned’ their licenses. Many crash. Some die. Others mutilate and kill. Appalled adults ask why and request reform” (Zuber, 2006).

            This much called for reform has come in the form of Graduated Driver Licensing in 45 states around the country. This has been an important part of creating safe roads for American teens. In the states in which Graduated Driver Licensing (or GDL) is mandatory, statistically there are fewer accidents involving teenagers and, even more hopeful, less deaths from teenager-involved accidents. Each state is different in the regulations required for teenagers to obtain their GDL and the restrictions that come with the license afterward. For example, states like Nevada require a 6-month waiting period from the time a teenager obtains their permit to the time they get their license, and other states have imposed curfews on young drivers (Henderson, 2006). One of the most important restrictions in the eyes of many parents and supporters of such regulations is limiting the presence of other teenagers in the car with a new teenage driver. Most experts believe that a teenager is more likely to get into accidents with their friends in the car because “the mere presence of peers can induce kids to take risks they otherwise wouldn’t, often because they’re trying to impress their passengers” (Henderson, 2006).

This is frightening considering that in the nine years between 1995 and 2004 there were thousands of teenagers killed in driving accidents, including “9,847 passengers of the 15 to 17-year-old drivers” (AAA, 2006). Some parents have even become involved by putting special bumper stickers on their teenager’s cars, available through the Report My Teen Driver Safety Program. The bumper stickers display a phone number and pin number that other motorists can use to report bad driving or behavior by a teen driver (Report My Teen, 2005). Measures like this have helped to make the road safer for all motorists. Not only is there a higher fatality rate amongst the teenage drivers themselves, but amongst their passengers, so it seems only logical that the best way to prevent these types of accidents is by not only restricting the driving of teenagers under the age of 18, but by stopping it completely (Henderson, 2006). More parents must become aware of the issues surrounding teen drivers and take an active role in making sure that their teenagers become safe drivers. If this means having their learning permit for a couple more years before they are let off to drive on their own, then perhaps there should be a change in the law to force parents to do this.

            There are many other reasons why it is more dangerous for young people under the age of 18 to drive than for older drivers. Perhaps the most logical reason is because teenagers have not had the time to mature to a point where they can drive safely and not take risks. “Researchers with the National Institute of Mental Health have shown that the parts of the brain that weigh risks, make judgments and control impulsive behavior are still developing through the teen years and don’t mature until about age 25″ (Henderson, 2006). Teenagers also have a tendency to indulge in risky behavior such as drinking and driving, often because they do not feel comfortable calling their parents for a ride. “Teen drivers are inexperienced and that inexperience combined with any amount of alcohol can prove deadly” (How young is too young to drink, 1996). The truth is that there “are higher incidences of alcohol-related collisions” amongst this age group than all others (Report My Teen, 2005). Other risks that teenagers are more likely to take involve drug use and cell phone use while driving, as well as other distractions that lead to young people getting in more car accidents than other drivers overall. It’s obvious that teenagers today are simply taking more risks and have more distractions than years ago. For this reason alone there should be more legislature restricting teenager’s access to a driver’s license before they are even old enough to be called an adult.

             So what is the opposition? In truth, almost all teenagers are against stricter driving laws on young people under the age of 18 and even many parents see restrictions and legislature regulating teen driving as punishment instead of protection. The main reason teenagers do not view these changes as good is because to them, “driving equals control” (Zuber, 2006). By taking away their ability to get their driver’s license they are in fact losing their independence and their freedom from their parents during a time when they feel they should be separating themselves from them. In a poll done by Scholastic Choices magazine in 2005, 131 teenagers voted to keep the driving age at 16 compared to only 63 teenagers voting to raise it to 17 or older (2006). Many parents, strapped for time, see their children driving as a relief because they no longer have to. “Teens need the ability to drive just as much as anyone else–to get to school, to get to work, to get to sports or band practice, or just to go out with their friends” (D’Amico and Korokna-Palicz, 2006).

The truth is, most parents are willing to ignore the laws put in place regarding GDL’s and ignore the facts, whether because they do not want to be bothered by chauffeuring their children or because they trust that something like this could not happen to their family; however, Susan Larimer, a woman who lost her teenage son in an accident, says, “the second your kid drives away under his or her own power, you have no idea what can happen. If this nightmare can happen to our family, it can happen to anyone” (Henderson, 2006). While most people are unwilling or unable to imagine that a fatality could happen to their teenage son or daughter, or that their child could even be involved, it is important to remember that no one ever believes that they will be the one affected by a tragedy, so the laws must help to protect both children and parents on the roads.

            In the end, while we can never fully protect teenagers on the road there are ways in which we can make it safer for them and for all of us who travel on the nation’s roadways. There is no foolproof way of creating that safety, and certainly no solution that everyone agrees on, but by raising the legal driving age in the United States we can begin to reevaluate the process by which young people learn to drive and the way in which they get their driver’s licenses. Safety should come before independence.

Works Cited

AAA pushes for tougher teen driving laws. (March 2006). Claims, 54, p9 (1). Retrieved December          22, 2006, from InfoTrac OneFile via Thomson Gale.

Adolescent Medicine. (2005). New Hanover Health Network. Retrieved December 19, 2006 from http://www.nhhn.org/18897.cfm.

D’Amico, John, & Korokna-Palicz, Alex. (May 8, 2006)Should the driving age be raised to 18? Alarmed by car accidents involving teenagers, a number of states are considering raising the age for getting a license. New York Times Upfront, 138, p27 (1). Retrieved December 23, 2006, from InfoTrac OneFile via Thomson Gale:

Driving age: you speak out! (Choices Survey Results). (April-May 2006) Scholastic Choices, 21, p4 (2). Retrieved December 22, 2006, from InfoTrac OneFile via Thomson Gale.

Henderson, Wendy Cole. (Oct 23, 2006). Putting Limits on Teen Drivers. (Society). Time, 168, p71. Retrieved December 20, 2006, from InfoTrac OneFile via Thomson Gale.

How young is too young to drink? (The debate and connection between drinking-age laws, teenage drivers, and drunk driving). (April 1, 1996). Current Events, 95. P.1-3. Retrieved December 19, 2006. InfoTrac OneFile via Thomson Gale.

Report My Teen (2005). Retrieved December 19, 2006 from http://www.reportmyteen.com/

Rinaldo, Denise. (Sept 2005)Is 16 too young to drive: teens behind the wheel are more likely than

adults to crash, speed, and take dangerous risks. Should the driving age be raised?(personal responsibility). Scholastic Choices, 21, p10(7). Retrieved December 21, 2006, from InfoTrac OneFile via Thomson Gale.

Zuber, Kenneth L. (Sept 4, 2006). Death at the Wheel; Traditional driver education does little to

educate new drivers. (Special Report). AutoWeek, 56, p22. Retrieved December 19, 2006, from InfoTrac OneFile via Thomson Gale.

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