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Raise the Driving Age to 18

| April 5, 2016

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By Catherine Durkin Robinson

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 your 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 they read something in People years later and realize I’m right.


My ideas about teenagers driving aren’t wacky. They’re 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 as well. 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 we’re talking about Kanye West.

Thankfully, he’s the exception.

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 outside the insurance industry. Parents should be aware, too.

context floridaWhy are accidents the leading cause of death?

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 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 18th 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-plus 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.

Neurologically, kids aren’t ready. Isn’t it time we did what’s best before more die or kill others?

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.

catherine-durkin-robinsonCatherine Durkin Robinson’s award-winning columns have appeared in The Tampa Times, The Tampa Tribune, and Creative Loafing as well as several national magazines and newspapers. She is a mom, writer, advocate, political organizer, and runner. Reach her by email here.

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30 Responses for “Raise the Driving Age to 18”

  1. PCer says:

    So we raise the driving age to 18 and then there will be more 18 and 19 year olds getting into acciendents than 16 and 17 year olds? Boys brains develop a little behind girls, so should we hold boys off until 21 and let girls get their license at 18? Your logic is flawed and you should cut the umbilical cord now. I feel sorry for your daughter in laws.

  2. Nancy N. says:

    No matter what the age that people start to drive, there will always be a learning curve. People that age will be having more accidents because practice makes perfect. Having been driving for several decades now (don’t ask how many – it’s impolite to ask a lady her age), I have the experience to see the disaster coming before it unfolds and kills me. So in a lot of ways, raising the age of licensing will just kick the can down the road.

    Yes, teenagers do stupid crap. But frankly, are 18 year olds THAT much more mature than 16 year olds – especially if they just got the keys to freedom of transportation for the first time – that it would make a huge difference? Yes, studies have been done but were those done comparing the accident rates of people who started driving at 16 and at 18, or just comparing accident rates of people those two ages? Because if it’s the latter, the study is useless for predicting what would happen if the driving age was raised. It doesn’t control for having two years of experience, and it doesn’t control for 18 year olds being giddy first time drivers.

  3. mom of a 14yr old says:

    First and foremost, when I was of driving age we had classes in HS as well as driving lessons to prepare us. I received my learners permit at the age of 15 where I was only permitted to drive with an adult in the passenger seat during daylight only. I passed the test at the age of 16 for my drivers license. and in my world in HS, no one died due to Accidents that were their mistakes. I find that it is the experience and knowledge of the person who is driving no matter what the age. I grew up in an area where kids were given farmers drivers licenses and they were 12-16 years old and more responsible than most adults out there! Sheltering a person (child and or adult) from learning sooner then later will cause more havoc! I have over the years seen Adults act irresponsibly speeding, racing etc. worse than anyone I grew up with in my teen years.. So I truly disagree with changing the age of someone getting their drivers license. P.S. having one is a privilege, so who ever does have the privilege of having a drivers license needs to abide by the law and with caution. and if that person is 16, 17, 18 years old then their parents need to teach them wisely for their future. and those from the age of 18 to 180 years old, also need to know the laws and rules of having the privilege of being able to drive. EDUCATION, KNOWLEDGE, EXPERIENCE. Key!

  4. Carol says:

    That’s the legal driving age up North & I see nothing wrong with it. On the flip side, there are more responsible teens behind the wheel than there are adults in a lot of cases.

  5. mom of a 14yr old says:

    OH and Seriously?? if you’re kids are doing what you wrote in the article.. “Between the ages of 13 and 18, our brain’s pleasure center is 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.”

    There is seriously a problem with the parenting if that is the case!! My son and his friends do not attend keg parties, etc. they all have the utmost respect for everyone and are not like what you have stated at all. My son and his circle of friends are extremely responsible young men and women. Your view on teens is ridiculous.

  6. mom of a 14yr old says:

    Actually that sounds more like 18-26 year olds in college. Re: keg parties etc.

  7. Outsider says:

    Geez, next people will be advocating for kids to stay on their parents’ health insurance policy until they’re 26. Seriously though, I think some kids are more mature than others no matter what their age. Some kids can handle driving responsibly at 15, and others sadly, can’t make the cut at 50. Ultimately, the parents still have the final say (and the purse strings) and should make the decision based on their knowledge of their own children, which is a whole lot better than a random number dreamed up by the government.

  8. Donald Trump's Tiny Fingers says:

    Agree, raise it to 18 and cut it off at 65.

  9. High school 15yo with permit says:

    This lady has met and surpassed idiot status. Seriously, limited computer and tv time makes sense but that crap about corn syrup and hydrogenated whatever’s. Come on. Think about something for a second here. When kids are 18, they begin traveling for college. So you now plan on handing a kid a license and sending them cross country. The way it is now, and with a little bit of parental control, kids will get practice by driving the short distance to and from high school every day.

  10. From pc to army says:

    How about we lower the driving age? How many older men and women get into accidents as well?? Too many.
    Or implement a requirement for people to get annually tested for driving??

  11. From pc to army says:

    Also. What the hell is wrong with dubstep? Every kid has a right to like whatever they like, it’s not fair to put them down for liking something you don’t like.

  12. Anonymous says:

    I am 18, I agree with raising the driving age to 18. Since December I have lost two of my childhood friends due to car accidents. Also, many of my friends now have been in car accidents due to stupidity & reckless driving, none of the have been seriously injured, yet. But I do not want to see the day one of my friends are on the news. I will not lie, I have been in the car with my friends & witnessed them driving irresponsibly. I am aware that raising the age requirement may not change anything, but I do know the main cause of death for teens are car accidents. I know changing a law is not easy, but if it were to decrease the amount of teen deaths why not change it? Parents will have to drive kids around until they are 18, and schools will have to spend more money on busses, but like I said if it saves lives, why not? Everyone that disagrees are the ones that have not lost a child from a car accident. I see my two friends who recently passed from car accidents family on Facebook, their lives are completely shattered from losing their child. A mother and a father should never have to bury their child. My mom won’t even allow me in the car with my friends she has not met yet, it definitely is inconvenient but I know it is only in her best interest. I never want my mom to get a phone call from the police. Yes, experience and knowledge is key. But then again only a years worth of practicing before getting your license is NOT enough experience. I’m 2013, 2,543 teens were killed from the ages of 16-19 and in 2014 2,623 teens were killed. Each year the death rates increase. I promise once it’s your child you won’t be disagreeing.

  13. Joe says:

    if anything we should be lowering the age and teaching the kids faster not slowing them down, and they should make the test stricter for the older drivers

  14. Lex says:

    You could say the same thing about those that drink as there isn’t much difference between 18 year olds and 21 year olds who drink yet we insist the drinking age be 21 (with many underage disregarding this law and getting into car and driving while drunk). In the interest of public safety it just simply makes sense to keep 16 year olds off the road as much as possible and leave it to people who are of legal age when they are legally responsible for themselves and not so much the parent. I fully well understand that there is a learning curve at play and new drivers should quite frankly be required to post something on the car that indicates it; regardless of age.

    Just remember, no one has a right to drive. It’s a privilege, not a Constitutional right.

  15. Experienced Driver says:

    16 years old is the perfect age to start learning to drive. A young mind = a learning mind. At that age you learn all the good and bad habits of driving. The real question is what age do you stop driving. Old drivers pose a way bigger threat to society then teen drivers. Teen drivers react and think fast old people don’t. Old people can’t and don’t even turn around then backing out, or to look in their blind spot when switching lanes. Silver alert should refer to an old person behind the wheel.

  16. Concerned says:

    I received my license at 16 in Florida (my permit was at 15). We had drivers education in school with actual cars, taught by PE teachers. The first year I drove, my parents wouldn’t allow me to have any friends in the car, only my younger brother. I now realize that was a wonderful rule. Forty years later, I’m still driving fine.

    There will always be fatalities. However, if you want the age raised to 18, you might as well make it 30, because people in their twenties also feel invinsible. Or maybe older. Look at all the people riding motorcycles with no helmet. That law should definitely be reversed.

  17. David S says:

    When I was an FF in Maryland I saw hundreds of auto accidents and many deaths from young kids that kinds of sticks in your mind especially when its someone you know I agree that it must be a state wide law raise the age to 18 remember geting your licence is a privilege.

  18. Anon says:

    Is there a difference between 16 and 18? Absolutely. I did a couple of things when I first got my license — and I took a driving course — that I wouldn’t have done two years later. Of course there’s a learning curve, but I know I was more mature in my freshman year of college than my junior year of high school. Every year we grow older means we’re more mature. That doesn’t mean we don’t make poor choices, but the chances are reduced.

  19. Another View says:

    When I was 16 and invincible, I got into a terrible accident. I was driving WAY to fast (triple the speed limit), but thankfully, there were no other people involved. I should be dead, but I walked away without a scratch, not even any sore muscles or a bruise from the seat belt. My story could be a 2-minute interlude on “I shouldn’t be alive.”

    To address several of the “justifications” and other “reasons” for one opinion or another:
    Did I go through a Driver’s Ed class? yes
    Was I drunk? no
    Was I showing off to my friends? no (I was alone)
    Did I make a colossally stupid mistake? yes
    Did I have friends in high school who died in car accidents? yes (even on the same strip of road where I had my accident; I lived but they died)
    Am I a parent of a teen? yes

    Do I think the age for a driver’s license should be increased? No, in fact, I think the age for a “learners permit” should be decreased.

    For teens, ability comes with practice. We rarely hear about a kid causing a fatal accident while the parent was in the passenger seat, so let’s increase that “safe” learning period for our children. Rather than raising the age to 18, let’s create a “graduated” permit system that starts at age 14 with a kid being able to drive in daytime (currently the first 3 mo of having a “learners permit”) and eventually leading to a full license at age 16. Let’s give our kids more experience and let the “newness” of driving wear off before we trust them on their own; let’s lower the “learners permit” age to 14, but create more and extended stages of the “learners permit” system.

  20. David S says:

    My I add to my response to my comment. When I took drivers class in high school we were required to watch a lot of traffic fatilities of real crashes which included DUI,careless driving,young adults etc… to this day I can remember those along with the hundreds of accidents that I got to see when I was an FF,maybee these yound adults should be required to ride along with the local fire/rescue to see for themselves just an suggestion any thoughts?

  21. tulip says:

    It’s a scary thought that a kid can get a driver’s license on his or her 16th birthday. That’s ONE day after being only 15!! However, today’s way of living being the way it is, it’s unfortunately necessary, as some 16 year olds work part time, have after school activities or sports and have to have a way of getting there. Most parents work so they aren’t available to drive them around whenever necessary.

    It might be a good idea to restrict any night time driving, having other kids in car, no boom boxes in car, just regular radio. Also I would only let them have the “old fashioned” kind of cell phone that only makes and receives calls. NO texting ability, and all the other things downloaded on these phones that kids play with while driving.

    In other words, the less distractions the better.

    It has been mentioned that older drivers cause problems on the road by not using directionals, looking back before pulling out of parking lot, changing lanes quickly, etc. Perhaps if all drivers were paying attention to what the car ahead of them was doing, instead of talking and texting and other things, they would be able to avoid a situation be being able to drive defensively. I”ve seen many drivers that are not older people doing very stupid things on the road, so I guess people of all ages are guilty of dumb things at one time or another.

  22. Dave says:

    Here is the deal.

    (1) You take away the cell phones which is a distraction (texting, talking) and bingo lower death rates.
    (2) The laws and penalties need to be stiffer on speeding, reckless driving and your plain old traffic violations.
    (3) A mandatory drivers test every 8 years regardless of age to include panic stops.

    Teens learn by example and in most cases they learn wrong , watching mom and dad speed along the road so it must be ok. Watching their peers drive reckless, speed, texting, talking on the phone while holding onto that cigarette so if they can do it and they haven’t had a wreck why not . That’s the attitude of the teens.

  23. r&r says:

    An earlier post said cut it off at 65. That’s the most stupid thing I’ve heard. I’m over 65 and I’ll go up against anyone on driving skills.

  24. PCer says:

    After reading other posts, I wonder how much of this is about the maturity of a teenager and how much is the giving up control of the parents. My son is 16. When he was 15, he got his learners permit. When we left the drivers license office, he drove home. Every single time we get in the car, he drives. Regardless of where we are going. This gave him practice and experience. The more he gets, the better. Today he has his license and drives on his own…. if we go someplace together… he drives. I want him to get as much experience behind the wheel while we are with him and while he is local so when he goes away to college he is okay on his own.

  25. Student drivers says:

    So, it’s only teenagers that don’t wear seat belts or attempt to drink and drive?? Here’s a really crazy idea….how about requiring kids to take a drivers Ed class BEFORE THEY GET THEIR PERMIT???? As it is right now, all they have to do is pass 2 online test and get handed a permit. It’s up to the idiot adult drivers to teach their kids to drive….

  26. no says:

    wow she thinks she is some kind of expert. Obviously she hates teens and kids.

  27. Sherry says:

    A couple of ideas spring to mind:

    1. It seems to me that the requirement of actual “hands on” driver’s education (in high school) is more important than raising the age of driver’s licenses. Those classes should include instruction on the dangers of texting, talking on the phone, driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, etc. Again, cutting funding for such things and leaving it up to parents is NOT working!

    2. Restricting a driver’s age to 65 apparently was suggested by someone who thinks they will never live that long. . . and has no idea of a mature person’s life. . . and how actually most mature drivers have better driving records. So let me pose this question: since there is almost NO regularly scheduled, convenient “public” transportation in the state of Florida. . . just how would people over 65 get around if they weren’t able to drive?

  28. dave says:

    “”Restricting a driver’s age to 65 ” pretty lame. All drivers need to be re-tested on traffic laws along with a drivers test with an driving officer at some point in their life, young, middle aged and old. I’m all for that. My car was re-ended by a older man 81 at a stop sign, the police officer asked him did he see me stopped right in front of him. . The older man said, yes but he (me) was stopped, and noted to the police officer ” I can’t react like I used to”,. The police officer told the 81 year old man, The car in front of you sir was stopped at a STOP sign, the old guy said, Oh.
    A re-test would have prevented this man from driving

  29. Nightvid Cole says:

    The “impulsive teenagers” is a myth. Look at the rates published by the CDC for causes of death by age group (Google it.). If it were true that teenagers were impulsive and made bad decisions, we should expect to see anomalously high death rates from drug overdoses compared to adults, and high rates of STD deaths and suicide. Yet many of these causes of death actually peak in the 20’s or 40’s, not the teens!!!

    And yet the facts don’t show bear it out. So I conclude that it is prejudice. What is being said now about the “teen brain” mirrors what was said in the late 19th and early 20th century about the “negro brain”. Sad sad society we live in where this type of prejudice is socially acceptable.

  30. Nightvid Cole says:

    If teenagers are so high risk, explain why we do NOT see the death rates from homicide, suicide, and drug overdose peak sharply in the teens and then drop dramatically for people in their 20’s and 30’s?

    The “teen brain is impulsive” idea is a myth.

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