September 20, 2017
In answering the question of whether or not changing the driving age to 18 would make a positive, negative, or no impact, there are various factors to consider. First, it is necessary to examine the data on newly licensed drivers (16 and 17-year-olds) and to compare this data to that of 18-year-olds and older, as 18 is the proposed age to change the requirement to. As many resources show, there is no doubt that young drivers are at high risk for irresponsible driving and vehicle crashes, which then lead to consequences of both injury and death. Teen drivers are more likely to make critical decision errors while driving, to speed, to engage in risky driving, to not wear seatbelts, and to drive while under the influence. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that: “The risk of motor vehicle crashes is higher among 16-19-year-olds than among any other age group. In fact, per mile driven, teen drivers ages 16 to 19 are nearly three times more likely than drivers aged 20 and older to be in a fatal crash”. Within this age group of 16-19-year-olds, 2015 resulted in 2,333 teens killed and 2014 saw 221,313 teens injured in motor vehicle crashes; these numbers mean that six teens in this age group died every single day from a motor vehicle related death. Other statistics on teen driving coincide with the findings of the CDC; for example, the California DMV finds that “the crash rate for 16 to 19-year-olds is 2.7 times higher than drivers of all ages”. The problem then is that these studies group young drivers into a single category, so it is not initially clear if changing the driving age back just two years, to 18-years-old, would have enough of a positive impact to incite necessary changes. However, further information does show that for young drivers these two years are in fact crucial. According to the CDC, “the crash rate per mile driven is 3 times higher for 16-17 years old as compared to 18-19 year olds”. This statistic shows how newly licensed teens are especially at risk for motor vehicle accidents. Data from the California DMV also shows this increased risk as “the crash rate for 16-year-olds is 3.7 times higher than drivers of all ages” compared to the 2.7 times higher rate for the 16-19 year old grouping.
With this data in mind, it can be seen that young drivers are overall more risky to have behind the wheel including young drivers who are 18-years-old and older. Still, those under 18 do pose an even greater risk to themselves and other motorists when on the road. Given these initial findings, it would be reasonable to propose a change in the driving age restriction. But, due to other factors that are related to the driving age, it is important not to jump to conclusions on the decision. There are many strong reasons for having the driving age stay at 16-years-old, and these must be taken into consideration. First, there is the possibility that 18-year-olds will still drive irresponsibly, and thus not make a positive impact on changing the numbers of accidents, injuries, and deaths. Since teen drivers would be driving for the first time when they turn 18, it is likely that the accidents for this age group would increase as it is now composed of newly licensed drivers with little experience. If this were the case, changing the restriction on the driving age would be fruitless and cause no change. Another thing to consider is that people at 18-years-old are not required to go through any mandatory driver’s education. At 18 as a legal adult, if you can pass the driver’s test at the DMV then you can obtain a license; this may mean that drivers are missing out on crucial skills and safety measures that are taught within driver’s education classes making them riskier drivers. Along with the possible risks of 18-year-old drivers, there is also the argument that 16-year-olds take on more than just driving when they obtain their driver’s license for the first time; for many 16-year-olds getting their driver’s license comes with larger steps of development such as becoming more responsible, gaining independence, and engaging more in society. In some cases, teens may take on responsibilities of buying their own car, making car payments, or paying for insurance, and all teen drivers are responsible for their own actions behind the wheel. Given the important social aspects that come with the ability to drive at 16, along with previous considerations, it may be more effective to look for other solutions.
One avenue of change that I think would have a more positive impact on young drivers and would help to reduce bad driving habits, and as a result reduce the negative statistics that are associated with them, is not to change the driving age but to instead take actions to educate and promote safe driving and bring awareness to the issue. Teaching young adults safe driving habits and the risks of breaking these would allow for them to recognize the responsibility that they hold. To help young drivers realize the extent of the consequences they could face due to actions like texting and driving, speeding, not wearing a seatbelt, etc., the education must be powerful, memorable, and interactive, in order to ensure the message gets across. One example of a powerful way to get young drivers to take the issue seriously is to have survivors and families/friends of victims’ of these accidents share their personal stories to show the reality of the consequences on a deeper level. Showing drivers the serious ramifications that people have suffered through, whether it be the loss of a loved one, serious injuries, or having to live with killing or seriously injuring another person(s), is a strong effort that can be taken to make teens recognize the seriousness of the problem. Along with other educational programs these real and emotional stories and experiences can be taught in schools, in youth programs, through the DMV, at community centers, and many other places, and through various mediums including: social media, interactive models, presentations, and any other forums. Another educational component besides sharing the stories of those affected by reckless driving would be to hold a mock accident scene at a school or within the community. This is something my high school did to show the dangers of distracted driving and to show how one seemingly minor decision can spin out of control so rapidly. Seeing the way in which a split second of looking away from the road can result in a terrible chain of events that hurts yourself, others on the road, and your loved ones, all to varying degrees, gives a very real model that could have a large impact on young drivers as it did for me. These methods would be strong ways to get teens out of there mentality of “it won’t happen to me” and into better habits of safe driving. I believe that awareness and education are paths better suited to making a positive impact on young drivers as well as on society as a whole, rather than a change in the driving age. While these measures may not halt all accidents, injuries, and deaths by young drivers, it gives a foundation of safe and lawful driving practices that will result in more long-term benefits of educated drivers.
My name is McKenzie Bagley and I am a student at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin where I am majoring in Political Science and minoring in Criminology & Law Studies. At Marquette I am a member of the Honors Program, the Pre-Law Scholars Program, and had the opportunity to study in Washington D.C. for a semester at the Les Aspin Center for Government. Outside of school, I hold an internship at Civitas Law Group to help prepare me for my future as I plan to pursue a career in law.