Debate over the Driving Age: 16 or 18?

Debate over the Driving Age: 16 or 18?

teen driverAmerica is unique from other countries in a number of ways, particularly in its different “of age” requirements. While most European countries allow drinking at age 18, an American must wait until her 21st birthday. Voting, meanwhile, begins at age 18. And the driving age? Well, teens as young as 16 can get behind the wheel! The strange discontinuity between drinking, voting, and driving has been the source of controversy and debate for many years, with many safe driving advocates insisting that teens shouldn’t be allowed to drive when they still can’t even legally vote.

The Science Behind the Debate

According to ongoing brain research at the National Institutes of Health, the “executive branch” of the brain, which is responsible for considering risks, controlling impulsive decisions, and making rational judgements, is not fully matured until the age of 25. In most 16-year-olds, that part of the brain is significantly less developed than even teens just a few years older.

Experts explain that 16-year-old drivers crash at such a higher rate because their brains simply aren’t equipped to make the decisions that ensure safety behind the wheel.

Age or Inexperience?

Of course, many people oppose measures to raise the legal driving age to 18, citing that a 35 or 50-year-old has the potential to be a reckless and dangerous driver too, and it isn’t fair to discriminate simply based on age. Proponents of maintaining the driving age at 16 say that new drivers will always have higher crash occurrences, regardless of age, because they lack the experience necessary to feel comfortable on the road.

Can Raising the Driving Age Be Done?

While any change is certainly possible, there are obstacles to making such a dramatic change if raising the legal driving age from 16 to 18. First, teens often begin working or becoming involved in sports or other activities around the age of 16 and rely upon the independence of driving to maintain those extracurriculars without requiring daily parental chauffeuring. It could be detrimental to teens’ development to keep them so sheltered and dependent.

Many states now use a “graduated licensing” strategy which requires additional supervised driving, classroom instruction, and absolutely no traffic violations before obtaining a permanent license. Other states minimize teen distractions by making it illegal to ride with a passenger until an older age, and most states use curfew laws for new drivers. These steps have at least helped curtail the number of accidents while the country continues to debate if 16 is the right age for driving to begin.

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