Andy Manis/AP

Highway Safety Institute Calls for Older Driving Age

September 10, 2008 02:23 PM
by Lindsey Chapman
Citing the dangers that teen drivers face, an insurance safety group wants to increase the age at which children can get a driver’s license.

Teen Driving Age

Car accidents are the leading cause of death among teenagers, and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) says it has a solution to the problem. The group wants U.S. states to consider raising the minimum driving age for teens to 17 or 18, according to the Associated Press.

New Jersey is presently the only state that requires its drivers to be 17 before they may obtain a license. After studying several years of data, the IIHS found that the state has fewer teen driving fatalities than nearby states.

Several states have implemented graduated driver licensing programs, in which teens must spend a certain number of hours driving with an adult before they are able to drive alone. The success of these programs makes raising the licensing age “a logical next step to reduce driving by the riskiest motorists on the road, the youngest ones,” Anne McCartt, IIHS senior vice president for research said in a press release.

Some people argue that factors like grades, cell phones and alcohol also strongly influence how well a teenager can drive. Montana researchers are looking for a way to help teenage drivers learn how to avoid problems caused by fatigue and distraction on the road. A study conducted by the Western Transportation Institute will use special in-car cameras to help kids learn about safe driving behavior. Although the cameras will always be on when a teen is driving, they will only record video when “g-force sensors” are activated in a traffic incident like a vehicle swerve or a collision. Analysts will examine the video to see how distraction or fatigue may have contributed to the problem, and then implement any lessons learned in a driver’s education class.

Kids and Adults Share Their Thoughts

The idea of raising the driving age doesn’t sit well with some kids and parents. “When you’re sixteen, it’s kind of a privilege, and if you’ve earned it, you should be able to drive,” 14-year-old Holton Melville told Oregon's KOHD News. Holton’s father said good drivers need experience “and you’re not going to get that if they raise the age to 18.” Nancy Byers, who has a teenage daughter, said some kids need to be able to earn money for college, and not driving by age 16 could leave some of them “in serious trouble.”

Karen Sternheimer, a sociologist at the University of Southern California, told the Associated Press that safety officials need to be concerned about more than just teen driving groups. Sternheimer said that in 2007, drivers ages 25 to 34 and 45 to 64 were twice as likely to experience an alcohol-related fatality than 16- to 20-year-olds. “The intense focus on teens diverts our attention from the real threats to public safety: speeding and driving while intoxicated,” she said.

Related Topic: The drinking age


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