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Raising the Teen Driving Age to 18

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Raising the Teen Driving Age to 18

Melih Oztalay
Amazines.com
April 30, 2005

This article is designed to raise the concern about teen driving fatalities and what can be done to drastically reduce this alarming statistic. While this article may be sensitive to some readers in certain industries, we would like to raise the question as to what can be done to make our teens better drivers and how to alert others on the road that a new driver is behind the wheel.

Our previous article raised the question of whether the driving age in the country needs to be raised to age 18. With more teen fatalities on the road each year than the amount of deaths reported from 9/11, we must consider changes to our laws governing teen driving. From another perspective one could say that the number of teen deaths on the roads in the U.S. are greater than the number of deaths reported of U.S. soldiers before and after the war in Iraq! Are our roads a war zone?

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported 3,657 drivers aged 15 to 20 years killed in 2003. In 2002, the number killed in the same age range was 3,827. While one would never make light of 9/11, let us consider the amount of energy, government changes, money, war - to name just a few - put forth after 9/11. If only a fraction of this energy had been given to the teen driving problem, perhaps we could have reduced teen driving related deaths in 2002 and 2003 – a staggering total of 7,484.

Following is a combined statement from - Gordon Booth, Chief Instructor of Drivetrain, Inc. in California, http://www.drivetrainusa.com, and - Eddie Wren of Drive and Stay Alive in New York, http://www.driveandstayalive.com, regarding our teen driving problem: “Research in several countries has shown not only that the younger people are when they start to drive the higher the chances of having a serious or fatal crash within the first year of driving, but also that a young person's brain is not fully developed until after the teenage years have passed, and that this, in turn, also reduces a young person's abilities as a safe driver.

Wisdom and any genuine desire to protect young people both undeniably dictate that it is better if teenagers do not start to drive until they are at least 17 or preferably 18 years old.

It is noticeable that if parents can hold back a female for 6 months, so they do not start driving until 17 or 18, then one sees them mature at least 12 months. With males a hold back of about a year equals a maturity increase of about 6 months.”

Inexperience, risk taking behavior, and immaturity are cited as primary reasons for these accidents. Increasing the driving age to 18 would not necessarily change all three primary reasons. Therefore, we must consider other possible solutions as well, such as the driving education process itself.

Driver Education Comparison

Comparing our driver education process with other countries is an important step in exploring possible solutions. Using Germany as an example, we were able to obtain the following information directly from the German driving school online at http://www.fahrschule.de

  • First you must be at least 18 years of age.
  • After you have completed the driver education course and school you are on probation for 2 years. During these 2 years a lesser driving violation would require you to re-take the driver education course. A more serious driving violation would call for your driver’s license to be revoked. In either case when your driver’s license has been granted once again you will be on probation for 4 years.
  • The driver training course covers almost 28 hours of classroom education followed by 35 hours of driving school on the road to cover varying conditions of day, night and autobahn experience with an instructor.

    The above only covers a small portion of the driving laws in Germany. It is evident, however, that the United States does not have these requirements. How to drive a car?

    Teen driver’s aside, it is reasonable to suggest that many adults who have had their driver’s license for years are not knowledgeable enough on how to drive a car. They may be traffic regulation experienced, but what about actually using the vehicle? During the driver education process we should include how to handle a car under different conditions -- road conditions for rain, snow, ice, what to do if you have to slam on the brakes at higher speeds, sudden unexpected responses requiring split second decisions, how to handle the automatic and manual transmissions – to name just a few.

    This type of training can be performed in driver simulation courses that are currently available from RoadSafety.Com (http://www.roadsafety.com). Larry Selditz, President of RoadSafety.Com had this to tell us:

    “For the past 18 months we have been involved in a research and development project to bring effective vehicle simulation to novice drivers and others. While simulators have been around for years, the operative word here is “effective”, science-based simulation. We recently completed the Research and Development phase of this project and are now in the process of helping to develop a cost effective commercially viable simulation product. One of our Vice Presidents, Mr. Fred Craft, is forming a new company utilizing the technology we helped develop. Fred is an industry expert in advanced vehicle simulation and I believe he would be an ideal contact for input for your article. I have forwarded a copy of your email to Fred.

    I have always been a strong advocate of training and believe it is a key component to developing safe driving SKILLS. That is exactly what a simulator can help achieve. Our vehicle and driver monitoring system, a “black box”, is the key to developing safe driving HABITS. As my friend Ron Thackery, Vice President of Risk and Safety for American Medical Response, once told me “what you monitor you can control – what you don’t, you won’t”. That applies to teenagers as well as paramedics. American Medical response operates the largest fleet of ambulances in the world and uses our black box to control and improve driver performance. The same principles that have reduced the number of ambulance crashes by more than 90% are used in the “black box” we developed for teenage drivers.”

    Economic Implications

    The primary industries affected by increasing the driving age to 18 are the automotive manufacturers, auto insurance, gas and driving education companies. This basically covers the largest firms within the auto industry.

    The automotive manufacturers would only see a delay in purchases by a factor of three years and only for the first three years that the driving age was raised to 18. Most 18 year olds would receive their driver’s licenses during the summer after graduating from high school.

    The auto insurance companies would hopefully gain revenues by not having to pay out insurance claims due to car accidents created by the 15 – 18 old teens. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration indicates approximately 300,000 motor vehicle crashes resulting in injuries for this age group per year, which is above the figures for the fatalities mentioned earlier in this article. Therefore, auto insurance industry would have a gain from raising the age limit and not having to pay out 900,000 claims from car accidents over a three year period from age 15 to 18.

    Gasoline companies would see a reduction in their revenues with the reduction of gasoline usage. Whether 15 – 18 year old drivers generate a significant impact upon the revenues of gasoline companies is unsubstantiated as of this writing. However, it would be safe to surmise some level of reduction would be apparent. The reduction of emissions would indeed benefit our planet.

    Driving schools would see the most significant impact. Short term they would lose business for the first 3 years. Those three years could be used, however, to help provide them support by both State and Federal governments. The amount of financial effort that has been put forth after 9/11 against terrorist continues to question if only a fraction could be used in this effort to help save our teenagers. During these three years, assisting them to prepare courses should be considered. Long term the driving schools would actually fair better as they would have more hours per student to charge.

    Affects upon the Family

    For parents with new teen drivers with permit licenses going through a state Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) program, there will be no affect in the initial implementation of changing the driving age to 18. Parents with teens that have their operators license and who have allowed their teens to drive on their own will most likely find themselves having to continue to “chauffeur” their 16 – 18 year old teens to their various activities. While precious time would be encumbered, you can get comfort from the fact that your teen is still alive, your car is not damaged from an auto accident and your insurance has not doubled because of a teen driver on the policy.

    What if we do not change the driving age?

    I have a philosophy that the difference between utopia and reality is a choice. A choice by an individual or a group to make a change or move in a different direction. The statistics about teen driving require a change. If changing the driving age to 18 is too big of a leap today, then we can take smaller steps to help teens have better education and understand how to drive a car instead of blindly using a deadly weapon.

    We need to review what the driving schools are asked to teach the students. The requirements need to include not only traffic safety, but car driving training under differing conditions. The number of hours required behind the wheel should equal the number of hours required for the course, which is currently around 30 hours. Parents would spend more money to achieve this, but the additional cost is insignificant compared to the lives of their loved ones.

    Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) should be a requirement nationwide and include a probationary period for all new drivers to last through age 18. Traffic violations during the probationary period should require re-taking the driver education course -not with adults that are in a defensive driving course, but with other teens. Asking the teen to re-take driver education through the same school they received their initial education would be a consideration. Tracking the teens that re-take driver education and the driving schools they attend would also help understand if there is a driving school that may not be properly educating the teens.

    Driving school vehicles are always well marked while students are driving on the main roads. Unfortunately, that requirement does not extend to the family vehicle for new drivers in a GDL program. All family vehicles with a new teen driver should be required to have at least one label on the back of the car while the teen is driving and through age 18.

    Bumper stickers are not always practical when a teen is occasionally driving the car and stick-on vinyl to the window does not address night-time driving issues. The technology exists today to use car magnets that are thick, reflective for the night and are durable. These types of car magnets can be found at Auto Safety Magnets. http://www.autosafetymagnets.com Identifying these almost 2 million vehicles on the road should be a requirement on a national level.

    In Conclusion

    We hope the above information was helpful to address the problems, the need, and identify options if the driving age remained status quo or if it were raised. We hope the information was comprehensive to show the economic implications and the hindrances to raising the driving age. With these alarming statistics why have state and federal governments, as well as, the automotive industry jumped to the rescue? Have financial issues during hard economic times been put ahead of our youth? We have to "cowboy-up" to a resolution about this national problem.



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