With the recent headlines highlighting teen driving tragedies, we ask ourselves, “Do we need stricter driving laws and are 16 year olds mature enough to get a license?”
I have been teaching driver education since 1982. Personally, I don’t believe we need to raise the minimum age at which a student can get a license to drive. We have, over the last few years, implemented tighter graduated driving license requirements and I believe our laws are adequate. But we can do a better job of enforcing those laws and educating both parents and students about their importance. It takes time to make those laws a part of the driving culture and routine in terms of expectations and practice. Look how far we have come with seat belt laws. If I ask a classroom full of students, “How many of you buckle up regularly?” All hands are in the air. When I first started teaching, seat belt use was spotty at best and now, starting with the infant seat, we have changed teens and adults attitudes about seat belt use significantly. Making seat belt violations a primary offense during the last session was the right step in making sure seat belt use has even more compliance among our drivers, both young and old.
It is easy to explain to young drivers the importance of driving safely. Education, modeling good behavior and increased enforcement can help reinforce those rules. Unfortunately, there are some very bad decisions being made by a handful of students who choose not to follow the law after they get their license…alone or with a few friends. Peer pressure, a sense of invincibility, cell phones, and inexperience can all lead to bad choices. Some of these same students make poor decisions about alcohol use, drugs, or even friends. That being said, I believe that most 16 year olds are mature enough to drive safely. For every excellent 16 year old driver I see, I can find a dozen 19 year olds who display immature driving behavior. Drivers need experience. Delaying the age at which our teens get a license is not the solution.
We can legislate so far. It is up to the schools, parents, community, and local law enforcement to continue to speak to our students about why these laws are in place. The unfortunate and tragic events of the past week were certainly a wakeup call to all of us as to why these laws exist. I hope it was a prelude to hundreds of heart to heart conversations between parents and student at the dinner table or during those practice driving sessions. If parents took the time to ensure their students receive as much time behind the wheel as they get with hockey practice, piano lessons, or in front of the TV, we may be able to lower our teen death rates. Car accidents are the number one killer of teenagers. It’s not even close. Having a student driver is a license to worry, renewable every day. Help me help your teenage sons and daughters live to see another day.