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Why The Driving Age is 16 (And Higher!)

The Conversation

Remember your 16th birthday? When you finally got the right to get behind the wheel of a car? For most us, getting your driver’s license is a truly unforgettable feeling. 

The majority of states in the US have set the driving age to 16, but in some states they make you wait another year until you’re 17. And the process of going from a learner’s permit to a full-fledged driving license has so many differences between states that it’ll make your head spin. 

But whether you think that the driving age should be raised or should stay where it is, it’s worth understanding why the legal driving age is what it is today. 

So, we’re going to lay it out for you. 

Independence!

The Apopka Voice

If you’re reading this, and you’re old enough to drive, you definitely remember getting your driver’s license. The feeling of hitting the road and going  wherever you want for the first time, the immediate connection that you had with your car as a means to more freedom. It was a feeling of INDEPENDENCE!

At the age of 16, almost every kid feels the need to break out of their home and embark on their own journey in life. And getting your driver’s license is the first step in doing just that. 

But many states have opted to delay this freedom another year by moving the age back to 17, probably because they feel that at 16, most kids aren’t quite responsible enough to handle that kind of freedom. But regardless, part of the reason that states have set their legal driving ages where they are is because between 16 and 17 years old, teenagers start feeling that burning need for independence. And nothing scratches that itch quite like ripping your new-to-you Subaru WRX down the road. 

But this independence actually serves a more practical purpose too. Parent’s rarely have much free time, and don’t want to drive their kids to and from school, football practice, the movie theatre, and wherever else they want to go every single day. Setting the legal driving age at 16 or 17 relieves this pressure on families so that young people can get where they need to go without constantly annoying the hell out of their parents.

Believe me, your mom may have kept a smile on every time she brought you to the mall to meet your friends, but I guarantee she would’ve rather had you drive your own damn self. So, go give your mom a hug for all those annoying times she had to play chauffeur. 

More Time to Gain Experience

School Transportation News

Another major reason behind setting the legal driving age at 16 or 17 is that it would give kids the opportunity to gain more experience on the road. After all, you’ve got to learn sometime. Why not get it done early?

Well, this has been a pretty controversial debate. Whether it’s better to let kids on the road earlier so that they can gain experience, or whether it’s better to keep them off the road until they are responsible enough to drive a car.

Look, I’m not here to make a judgement on that either way. I’m not a politician, or a police officer, and I’m pretty sure I’m not your dad. But it is pretty much universally true that if you’ve never driven a car, you’re probably going to be a pretty bad driver on your first go. So even if they did raise the driving age to 18 or 19, new drivers are new drivers

However, there’s also the argument that at 16 or 17, kids aren’t mentally or physically developed enough to handle a car or make good judgements on the road, whereas at 18 or 19 they might be more prepared. 

What’s the answer to this trade-off? Who’s to say? Certainly not me, I’m just your friendly neighborhood car enthusiast.

Increased Responsibility

Raising Children Network

If you’ve ever been a kid, which I assume most of you have, you remember chores. Taking out the trash, mopping the floor, doing laundry. Yes, it definitely felt like cruel and unusual punishment when you were stuck doing chores while all your friends were out tik toking the renegade or whatever you kids do these days. But those  chores teach them responsibility. And many have argued that letting teens drive operates on pretty much the same principle. 

Being let loose on the road immediately forces you to learn to be responsible with your own life and the lives of others. You have to learn the rules of the road, how to take care of your car, how to keep yourself out of trouble, how to properly initiate a drift, how to swap in an LS1, how to outrun a cop, how to do the stare and drive. Sorry, I’m rambling.

Essentially, driving a car teaches you the important lesson that with increased freedom comes increased responsibility. But many people think that this baptism by fire approach comes at a price that’s just too heavy. Because let’s face it, none of us were all that responsible at 16 or 17. 

And there are people out there who think that a motor vehicle is just too dangerous to be trusted in the hands of someone that young. Obviously, the only way to learn is to screw up and face the consequences, but in the case of a motor accident, the consequence could involve someone losing their life. 

It’s a tough question to answer: is it better to give our young people the opportunity to learn and grow into responsible adults on the road, or is it just too much of a risk to let people who may not think about their actions drive a 100mph steel-body death machine? You tell me. 

Parental Bonding?

Drive Like A Girl

If you’re like me, your parents always insisted on being in the car with you for the first couple of months after you got your license. And well, they kind of cramp your style (love you mom and dad).

And while these laws are infuriating to the kids driving, more often than not, the intention is that new drivers have some sort of grace period of being accompanied by their parents before taking to the streets all alone. 

In fact, many states have probationary periods in which having a parent in the car with a new driver is 100% mandatory! And while I would urge all parents to hop in that passenger seat and make sure your kid learns good driving habits before you cut them loose in the world, it’s unclear whether or not people actually do this, or just let their teenagers run wild with a set of wheels. 

In my case, having my dad teach me to drive was a nice experience in hindsight, even if at the time I wanted nothing more than to rip up the pavement all by myself. But the sentimental value of these experiences aside, I think that having a parent present for the first couple months of driving can lead to much safer driving habits further down the road.

Don’t get me wrong, I still like doing donuts and going pedal to the metal sometimes. But within reason. 

The point here is that while many of the driving age laws across the USA make provisions saying that parents should be present in the car until they feel their child is equipped to drive safely, it seems like sometimes it just doesn’t shake out that way. 

It’s a Tough Issue

The Guardian

Regardless of whether or not you think the legal driving age should be changed, you’ve got to admit it’s a difficult issue. There are plenty of decent arguments both for keepingthe driving age where it is, and for raising it. There’s even some super solid arguments for changing the driving age to 8 years old! Wait… no there aren’t… what? That’s ridiculous. 

But you get the point, at the end of the day, it’s definitely a debate worth having, because people’s lives are at stake. 

Sure, having teenagers start driving earlier takes a serious burden off of their parents, it teaches them responsibility, and gives them more time to learn on the road. But teen drivers are also far more likely to be involved in a collision

There are a lot of pros and cons to weigh on either side for sure. So let your voice be heard and tell your government officials where you stand on this issue! Our right to speak our minds is what makes this country so great! Say it with me! U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!

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