Jacob and Zachary, my sons, turned 16 in January. The birthday cards came pouring in, dozens of messages and jokes around the idea that “drivers better watch out” and “it’s time to get a license.”
Since I’ve always been guided by reason, rather than Hallmark, these cards didn’t mean much to me. Or my kids. They know they won’t be getting their driver’s licenses anytime soon.
My friends aren’t surprised.
After all, these are the same people who watched me stick to decisions limiting television, computers, partially hydrogenated oils and high fructose corn syrup. They learned a long time ago to roll their eyes and whisper behind my back, until years later when they read something in People and realize I’m right.
I don’t really think of my ideas as wacky. I see my ideas as well-thought out and logical. Waiting until our children are 18 to drive alone, at night, or with other kids in the car comes from personal experience and an attention to news stories, science and facts.
First, the personal.
When I was a teenager, several friends died in automobile accidents. Then I became a teacher and lost some students. These numbers are anecdotal, I know, but they’re alarmingly high. Higher than the number of adults I’ve known to die in car accidents.
It’s been my experience that teenagers, as a rule, make dumb decisions. It’s not their fault. It comes with the territory. They distract easily and are inclined to take risks without considering the consequences. These tendencies fade as they grow and mature.
Unless you’re Kanye West.
Too many of my students refused to use seat belts because it was uncomfortable or wrinkled their clothes. They drank too much and attempted to drive. A few of them are dead now. Had they waited two or three years to accept the awesome responsibility for which they were ill-prepared, they might still be alive.
Now, the science.
Studies show car accidents kill more teenagers every year than anything else, including drug abuse, alcohol and tiger moms. This kind of information is sometimes news to those who aren’t neurologists, insurance actuaries or rental car agents.
A teenager’s brain isn’t fully developed. For anyone who has tried to sit through Amanda Steele’s dissertations on mascara or Lele Pons vines, this is not news. (Go ahead and Google them…I’ll wait.)
Between the ages of 13 and 18, our brain’s pleasure center is definitely in high gear and a strong motivator. This explains keg parties, sexual exploration and dubstep. The sections controlling risky or impulsive behavior struggle to keep up. This is just one of many factors to consider when deciding whether teenagers are ready for the keys to a car.
Putting away cell phones or controlling road rage is hard enough for adults to manage – imagine how we’d do with half our brains still in formation mode.
We don’t have to imagine actually.
There are plenty of studies that show driving is deadlier before our eighteenth birthday.
So why don’t we change the laws?
It’s complicated. A few years ago, I made inquiries and more than a few doors slammed in my face. Insurance companies thought it a grand idea to push the driving age to 18. Who’s against the idea? School districts. They don’t have the money to spend on more buses, which would be necessary to transport all those kids who could no longer drive themselves to school.
Parents weren’t thrilled with the idea either. They’ve been carting kids around town for 15+ years and are about done. The only moms and dads I talked to who liked the idea were parents whose kids had died in car accidents. They were fully on board.
Unfortunately, their numbers grow every year.
Some lawmakers suggest this is an experience issue, not an age issue. They’ve supported a “graduated licensing” program, which mandates more time behind the wheel with a supervised and licensed adult, driving lessons and zero tolerance policies for traffic violations. But simply focusing on experience ignores what we know about the teenage brain and its predilection for risky behaviors.
Chauffeuring kids until they’re 15 or 16 and then letting them practice with us in the car until they’re 18 helps those with growing brains gain valuable experience while keeping everyone just a little bit safer. It’s also a great opportunity to expose them to music other than dubstep.