While we debate the various new developments on our road, such as autonomous cars, an age-old question is: Should we raise the legal driving age to 18?
In Germany, teenagers are only allowed to drive at 17, under the supervision of an adult, and at 18 without supervision. In the USA, the legal driving age is 16, though some states allow teens as young as 14 and a half to drive while others have it as high as 18 and a half.
For teenagers, getting a driver’s license is as much a rite of passage as any other. It gives them the opportunity to grow up and be independent and it forces us, parents, to let go. These teenagers will not always have access to public transit, so they will also be highly inconvenienced.
Let’s look at some of the arguments for why we should raise the legal driving age, then some of the stronger arguments for why we shouldn’t, and then make a judgment based on that.
For Raising: A reduction in fatal road accidents
A rather unfortunate truth is that the leading cause of death among our teenagers is auto accidents. An American teenager has twice the chance of dying in a car accident as an adult. Issues that lead to this include calling while driving and texting while driving. If we can take these drivers off the road, then it might seem reasonable that we would save many lives.
Against Raising: This is a one-sided View
While we like to point out that 16 and 17-year-olds are often involved in accidents, the fact is that taking them off the roads will simply shift the statistics to 18 to 21-year-olds. Drivers don’t just crash because they are texting or calling while driving; they also crash because they lack the experience to drive safely.
We can’t just take teenagers off the road because they are supposedly putting other drivers in danger. There are similar statistics for male drivers versus female drivers. Should we then ban males from driving?
Actually, while we’re on the topic of leading causes of death, those between the ages of 15 and 24 don’t constantly get sick like older people, so it’s only natural that auto accidents will have few contenders as the leading cause of death. The statistics here aren’t so obvious or direct.
For Raising: Teenagers aren’t Mature enough
The main argument here is that 16-year-olds have a mind that hasn’t quite matured to the level of the mind of an 18-year-old. 18-year-olds have a higher capacity to think about the future and plan ahead, probably because of the experience that comes with going to college.
Against Raising: This is a Blanket Declaration
Learning to drive, on its own, is a process that really helps a teenager to grow up and mature. They learn some important motor skills and they learn to share a road with other people. They learn to be responsible for their own transport and they also learn to be independent. A 16-year old that has had this experience will be a lot more mature by 18 than an 18-year old that never drove, at least as far as driving cars is concerned.
Photo attribution: State Farm licensed under Creative Commons 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)
For Raising: It’s Environmentally-Friendly
If we don’t permit young people to drive, then we will take off all of those extra cars from the road. Not only that, but we will force young people to seek alternatives, such as riding bicycles and taking public transport. This mentality will carry over into adulthood and instill in the ‘green’ culture, which will help slow down environmental pollution.
Against Raising: Why discriminate against young people?
So the government wants to promote green transport; that’s a noble purpose. However, why is it picking on young people to do that? If the government wants to promote green transport then the laws should be applicable to everyone and not just teenagers. Moreover, not everyone has access to public transport, especially teenagers living in rural areas.
For Raising: Other countries are doing it
Most European countries have raised the driving age to 18 and they seem to be doing just fine. Germany is a good example. Why not follow their lead?
Against Raising: No justification to do something just because others are doing it
This is just a case of peer pressure. We don’t have to enact any laws or adopt any culture simply because other people are doing the same. When it comes to the legal driving age, Germany and other European countries are different than the US, have different cultures, different roads, and different laws. Adopting their driving age isn’t going to give us the exact same results as them. Besides, while Germany doesn’t allow its teenagers to get a license until the age of 18, it allows them to drive by 17 anyway, as long as they are supervised by adults. I lived in Germany for 12 years and I can tell you that their roads are much more complicated and dangerous than ours. They have a case for their higher legal age.
For Raising: Teens will be more active
This is understandable. Without the option to drive, teenagers will have more options open to them, such as walking, riding bikes, and other things that force them to be active. This might help to fight the rising obesity among American teenagers and encourage them to exercise.
Against Raising: This is another case of Discrimination
Again, forcing teenagers to be more active by taking away their driving rights while the rest of the population does whatever it wants is discriminatory. Teenagers should be allowed to choose, in this context, whether they want to drive or use other more active modes of transportation.
A More Balanced Approach
So now that we’ve looked at the two sides of the story, you can see that I am strongly against raising the legal driving age. I believe that we should instead go for something a little more balanced.
To start with, every teenager will grow up at a different rate. So instead of blanketing everyone with the same law, why not pass on the responsibility to parents? While the legal driving age should remain 16, parents should be the ones to decide whether they want their children to get a driver’s license or not.
There are also already graduated licensing programs in place in most states and they are working quite well. Under these programs, the teenager spends time behind the wheel under supervision by a licensed adult and time in the classroom learning driving theory. There is also zero tolerance for traffic violations, with a violation leading to more training time and even potentially leading to license revocation.
I don’t believe we should raise the driving age. It’s always been 16 and it has found its way deep into our psyche and our culture. Like I mentioned earlier, getting a driver’s license has even become a rite of passage. We should instead implement programs that give graduated privileges to teen drivers over time so they have the opportunity to prove themselves as responsible drivers. Driving is all about experience, not age.
Jacob Dillon is a highly skilled freelance writer and editor from the UK who currently works at My Assignment Writing, a thesis writing service. He is deeply interested in human development and education and writes blog posts on these topics regularly. He also regularly writes reviews, such as the EssayShark review. He can be reached via Facebook or check his Twitter.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this newsletter are those of the author.