By Eric Peters, Automotive Columnist
Is 16 too young to 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.
Of course, it’s all about “safety.”
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 — just as the billy stick of federal money was used to impose the 55 mph speed limit, virtual Prohibition of alcohol and “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 pro drivers — from NHRA to NASCAR. Maybe not sixteen-year-olds, but not far removed. At 15 or 16, some of these kids are better drivers than most of us will ever be. What to make of this fact?
Granted, these are exceptional kids — but the point’s not invalid: Experience and training probably mean a whole lot more than age — as such.
Will raising the age 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. 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 make more sense to begin teaching kids how to drive around 14 or 15 — easing them into it gradually, and with supervision — so that by the time they are 17 or 18 they have three or four years of experience behind them. That’s actually the way it used to be done, until public institutions such as public schools took over from parents and the whole process became bureaucratized and officialized — but with less than stellar results.
Driving is, after all, a skill like any other; it is not mastered overnight — or after a few weeks of classroom instruction and a couple of hours in the seat.
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 trace amounts of alcohol in their system — as little as .06 or even .04 BAC, the level an average person can reach after having had a single glass of wine over dinner.
But I digress.
The other half of the equation when it comes to 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 schools) 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 — especially how to handle emergency, such as a slide on black ice. Instead, we chant cant at them that’s obvious BS, such as “speed kills” — the driving equivalent of the BS about “marihuana” that’s peddled to them in Just Say No sessions. Kids are smart enough to see through this — but immature enough to then regard everything they’re taught by adults as BS.
This is dangerous.
Far better to really teach them — and to be honest with them.
I’d be ready to lay serious cash on the table to bet Lund that if you took an average 14 or 15 year old and had him or her trained by an expert instructor and properly supervised for a year or two before a provisional license was granted — after which the kid would still be monitored and quickly reined in at the first sign of reckless or incompetent behavior — the whole “teenage driver” thing 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 MADD; just like politicians.
Just like the whole lot of them.