In chapter 9 of the final module we read about just how dangerous driving can be, especially for new drivers. New drivers in emerging adulthood are the most likely to be risky drivers, which increases their chance of some type of automobile accident. In fact, across developed countries the most serious threat to the lives and health of adolescents and emerging adults is from auto accidents. I mean, just look at these quick facts.
The United States in particular has an extremely high prevalence, even higher than other developed countries around the world. I wondered why that is the case. I turned to the national driving age. I looked through a list of ages in which an adolescent or emerging adult can begin to legally drive on the road. I realized that the United States had the lowest age, coming in at only 14 years old. Many, almost all, other countries in the world begin at age 18. I had been to France my senior year of high school and knew that they did not start driving as early as we did, largely because public transportation was easier to come by and a much cheaper choice because gas was quite expensive. I didn’t think much of it though. I figured it didn’t have anything to do with safety. This higher minimum driving age has resulted in rates of accidents substantially lower than in the U.S. however.
Should this be something we turn to? Is this our next move? When is the “right” time to allow emerging adults to drive on their own? Although the age requirement seems to work in lowering accident rates in other countries, I’m not sure how well the implementation of a similar law would go over in our own. Because we are already allowing adolescents and emerging adults to start driving at a much younger age, it could be useless to try and prevent them from doing so now. In my opinion, I think teens would likely go ahead and drive anyway. They might see the risky behavior as exhilarating and not as a threat to their well-being. As we know, they are more likely to take a greater number of risks while driving than drivers of any other age group. By placing restrictions on their ability to take themselves to activities, events, and school we might just be increasing the rate of injury and possibly even death.
Another reason I think we have a lower minimum driving age is due to a lack of adequate public transportation. The United States in particular uses far less modes of public transportation than most other countries around the world. It is not very realistic to require all teens ages 14-17 to now find a different way to get to places. There would be an even greater amount of overcrowding on our buses, trains, and taxis. I will say, that with the introduction of things like Uber, I have noticed more and more individuals taking advantage of ride sharing options. This could be an alternative to driving and so could putting more funding into our public transportation to ensure that they are adequate and abundant enough.
I’m not quite sure what the best option is in our case. There are plans circulating that would require more supervised practice and a lengthier exam to become legally able to drive. This could initially help the rates drop, but once they are unsupervised and have finished memorizing the correct answers to an exam (as so many of us know how to do) they could simply partake in risky behaviors at a later age. With the rate of teens with cars on the rise, I find that it may be inevitable to see a rise in accidents near this age period as well. We can focus on teaching this group and informing them of the dangers and possible consequences, but we can’t make the decisions for them.
When searching through the list of minimum driving ages, I found a wide variance. The United States and Canada rank as the two lowest starting at 14. There are then some countries like Mauritius, El Salvador, Mexico, Denmark, Finland, and Sweden that begin at age 15. A few countries, like France, start at age 16 or 17. Then a large majority declare 18 as the legal minimum age of driving. On the far end of the spectrum, Niger does not allow it until 23! That’s almost a 10 year difference between the lowest and oldest of ages. Even though many countries begin between ages 16-18, they often still do not heavily partake in teen driving as a result of cultural influence. Instead, they use their city transportation for means of travel. You can see on the map below that the entire continent of Europe implements the value of waiting until an older age to begin driving than we do in North America.
Dark blue-18, Medium blue-18 (supervised at 17), Light blue-18 (supervised at 16), Orange-17, Goldenrod-17 (supervised at 16), Yellow-16