The ability to earn a driver’s license at the age of 16 is a rite of passage for many families in the United States. With education programs allowing for the provision of an instructional at the age of 15 1/2 in some communities, it is an exciting stage that occurs for teens during the process of growing up.
Although there are several advantages for a family when another driver can run errands, teen drivers are also at a higher risk of accident or injury compared to any other population demographic. There are specific challenges that young people face behind the wheel because of their general lack of experience while driving as well.
One of the ideas proposed to counter the disadvantages of earning a driver’s license at 16 is the raise the driving age. By allowing for a longer period of instruction, the thought is that young people can become individual drivers with better skills because they have had more time to practice with their parents or instructors.
These are the significant pros and cons of raising the driving age.
List of the Pros of Raising the Driving Age
1. It could reduce the number of fatalities that occur on the road with teen drivers.
One-third of the deaths in the 13-19 age demographic occur in motor vehicle crashes each year. That’s because young drivers are more likely to take risks when compared to the older generations behind the wheel. Every additional passenger in a vehicle with a 16- or 17-year-old driver increases the risk of a fatality occurring. Drivers who are 16 also have the highest crash rate than any other age. By requiring an instructor to stay with the teen until they got older, it would allow each young driver a chance to develop more positive habits.
2. It would encourage teens to be more physically active.
If the driving age were raised from its current limits, then it would encourage young drivers to be physically active when they want to go somewhere outside of the home. Since getting behind the wheel would be off-limits, there could be an increase in walking, cycling, and other exercise-based movements. With up to 1 in 3 teens in some states being overweight or obese, we could encourage our children to work on their health while they also get more time to practice for their eventual driving test.
3. It would provide more opportunities to gain experience.
75% of the serious crashes that involve teen drivers are due to critical errors that happen behind the wheel. There are three common steps that young people miss when they are driving which account for almost half of all crashes: scanning for traffic and hazards to avoid, going too fast for the current conditions, and being distracted by something inside or outside of the vehicle. Since many new drivers exit their instructional period with significant deficits in these skill areas, the extra experience could help to reduce these risks.
4. It could reduce the cost of automotive insurance for families.
When teen drivers are added to their parent’s automotive insurance, the price of a policy typically skyrockets. The average annual rate quoted for a teen driver in the United States is $2,267 as of 2017. Even adding one driver to an existing policy adds more than $600 to the cost of coverage on your vehicles. By raising the driving age, parents could show their child is a safe driver and secure some additional discounts to reduce this financial impact.
Even teens who maintain a clean driving record in the 15-19 age demographic face significantly higher auto insurance rates because they are four times more likely to be in a crash when compared to older drivers. Since rates don’t start to decline until the age of 25, some changes to how we issue a license could be beneficial to everyone.
5. It would create consistency throughout the U.S. for driving standards.
Depending on the state where you live, there are different standards in place for when teens can obtain a license or permit. Some geographic regions allow teens as young as 14 to receive a learner’s permit. You can sometimes receive a restricted driver’s license at 16, while others offer an unrestricted adult license at that time. The global standard for driving is 18, but in the U.S., what is legal for a teen in one state might illegal in another.
6. It could reduce the amount of congestion on the road.
Because there are fewer drivers on the roadways with an increase in the independent driving age, there could be less congestion in some communities. Schools would require fewer parking spots to accommodate student drivers, which means the land could be used for other facilities or needs. Fewer vehicles would also mean lower emissions generated for our transportation needs since students would carpool or take the bus to school, which could give our environment a small boost.
7. It would allow a teen’s physiology to mature.
Science shows us that the human brain tends to be underdeveloped and volatile during one’s teenage years. That is one of the reasons why kids in this age demographic tend to be impulsive, emotionally unstable, and fail to predict what the consequences of their actions will be. Because all of these skills are essential to the driving process, raising the driving age would allow for young people to finish physically maturing in a way that will eventually make them better drivers.
8. It gives new drivers an opportunity to work with today’s intuitive assistance technologies.
Driving today is a very different experience for young drivers than it was even a generation ago. Teens in the 1990s were still managing all aspects of the driving experience through their personal skill because vehicles came with minimal features. Now 16-year-olds have access to lane assist technology, automatic braking, and some vehicles can even park themselves. By working with these features early, they can begin to master them as they gain more wisdom behind the wheel.
List of the Cons of Raising the Driving Age
1. It doesn’t guarantee an increase in driving skills.
Raising the driving age from 16 to any age does not matter if there isn’t something in the societal infrastructure that provides the new driver with experience. Even someone who gets behind the wheel at age 25 without any experience will struggle in the same ways that a 16-year-old does during their first driving sessions. The only way for this disadvantage to disappear is to offer meaningful, affordable lessons in each community that gets people driving since you can’t learn everything in the classroom environment.
2. It makes the family schedule more challenging to manage.
When kids reach a certain age, they begin to manage a job while they are going to school. There are athletic practices to attend, often right after school. If a 16-year-old (or 17) is unable to drive because the driving age was raised, then someone else in the family must step up to provide these transportation services. If that isn’t possible, then carpooling with other families would also be necessary. This added pressure could make it challenging to manage the career responsibilities of the parents in a single-guardian home or one where both are working to make ends meet.
3. It communicates a lack of trust in the young drivers.
Although young drivers do make significantly more serious mistakes on the road when compared to others, it would be incorrect to say that 16-year-olds are responsible for every major incident. If we decide to raise the driving age because of these statistics, then we are effectively discriminating against these kids since the same process is not followed for older drivers. This disadvantage shows that we do not trust all drivers of a certain age, even though there are many young teens who are very responsible behind the wheel and never in accidents.
4. It would prevent them from learning the responsibilities of vehicle ownership.
The idea of getting behind the wheel is very exciting for most new drivers, but the responsibility of vehicle ownership is a necessary part of the experience. Raising the driving age would prevent some teens from learning about the responsibility of budgeting for fuel expenses while traveling to school and work. You would also miss the experience of applying for an insurance policy or getting added to the parent/guardian plan. There are even the lessons on vehicle maintenance to consider that wouldn’t always be taken as seriously since there is less independence.
5. It could place the safety of our children at risk.
Although taking 16-year-olds out of the vehicle would potentially reduce the risk of being in an accident, having them take public transportation or carpool just increases the potential for problems in other areas. Teens who walk, take a bicycle, or ride a bus to school have a higher risk of encountering a dangerous person or situation without adult supervision present to protect them. They have limited mobility without the vehicle to get away. In neighborhoods where the crime rate is high, this issue just trades one problem for another.
6. It eliminates a family’s freedom to choose what is necessary for their needs.
It is interesting that the right to drive a vehicle creates a passionate debate about safety when teens can receive training to handle firearms. If we raise the driving age, then kids could legally possess long guns and ammunition in the United States, but they wouldn’t be permitted to get behind the wheel. There are approximately 3,000 automotive related deaths among teens in the United States each year, which is about the same number of kids who die from gunshot wounds. How can we debate the merits of taking a driver’s license away if we will not debate the same need for firearm ownership for young people?
7. It would still leave a patchwork of confusing driving laws.
Individual states in the U.S. have the power to regulate what the driving age is within their state borders. Even if every legislature decided to add requirements that stopped 16-year-olds from getting behind the wheel, there would still be differences in state laws that teen drivers would encounter that could get them into trouble if they were unaware of the change. The only want to really see all of the advantages of this idea would be for the federal government to institute a nationwide change somehow. Since the structure of the government makes this a challenging outcome, we may never see the full life-saving benefits which we might achieve when implementing this idea.
8. It would create an economic deficit for the insurance industry.
The premiums are so high for teen drivers because of the risks that they pose on the road. Although 16-year-old drivers are at a higher risk of being in an accident, not every kid with a driver’s license has this happen to them. About 60% of teen drivers are never in an accident before the age of 20 when they are behind the wheel. The insurance companies can charge inflated premiums because of the collected statistics today that they wouldn’t be able to do tomorrow with a higher age limit. That action could create some economic deficits that might even put some professionals out of a job.
In Conclusion with the Pros and Cons of Raising the Driving Age
Whether you are for an increase in the driving age or you believe that the current structure in society should remain the same, we can all agree on the need for training above everything else. If an untrained driver of any age gets behind the wheel of a vehicle, then that action increases the risks for everyone else on the road. The problem is often a lack of experience more than it is a problem with maturity or awareness.
Although the rate of accidents drops dramatically when comparing a 16-year-old driver to an 18-year-old one, the data suggests that the reason why this occurs is because of the experience that drivers get behind the wheel. Is it possible to gain that wisdom with a restricted license or a permit that requires another driver to be in the vehicle? Or should an unrestricted adult license be the better solution?
The pros and cons of raising the driving age often create more questions than answers. Some states in the U.S. might offer opportunities that are below the global standard, but the question must be answered by legislatures across the country. If you feel this debate is something that could save lives one day, then contact your state legislators to share with them how you feel.
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Masters Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years. If you would like to reach out to contact Natalie, then go here to send her a message.