a 16-year-old in Gaithersburg died after he lost control
of the car while street racing. Lackey High School in southern
Maryland has had several students die this year after car
crashes -- all of which were attributable to speed or poor
The legal age to drink alcohol once was 18. The public deemed
that too young for teenagers to handle responsibly, and
now the legal age to drink is 21. Is it time to re-think
teenage driving and raise the driving age to 17 nationwide?
When teenagers drive too fast and horse around behind the
wheel, disaster strikes. Here are some facts:
* According to the American Automobile Association, 14%
of all deaths due to motor vehicle accidents are teenagers.
Teenagers only comprise 7% of drivers.
* Twenty percent of all accidents involve teenagers.
* Teen drivers killed in motor vehicle accidents had a youth
passenger in the car 45% of the time.
* Traffic accidents are the leading cause of death for 16-
to 20-year-olds. Street racing in particular is a problem,
although not new. But today street racers use police scanners
and well-placed lookouts with cell phones to alert racers
to the approach of the law, making it difficult for police
to catch them.
Teen driving is being scrutinized from California to Georgia,
and changes are happening. In Georgia, legislation is being
proposed to raise the driving age to 17. Maryland and Pennsylvania
have or are considering graduated driver's licenses, which
initially restrict what hours teens can drive and how many
other teens or children they can have in the car with them.
After a year or two, teen drivers get the whole enchilada.
In Washington State, an effort is being made to let street
racers use Spokane Raceway Park on Friday nights during
the summer. Whether this is wisdom or folly will be determined.
For $5.00 - and after a car check for drugs or alcohol -
a teen will get on the raceway to race other teenagers who,
presumably, aren't any smarter than the first teen. Although
this may help to get racers off the streets, it would seem
the potential to be killed is still there.
Something important is being missed by only restricting
the hours teens drive or who's in the car or allowing street
racers onto a racetrack. Maybe, with all the freedoms and
access to money and technology, intermittent parental supervision,
and damn fast cars, we need to conclude that 16-year-olds
can't handle the responsibility.
Part of the problem is that the teens see that we have few
limits. From business to extreme sports, people test the
limits. Teens have pushed the limits with their hair or
clothes for a long time; now it's tattoos and body piercing.
Purple hair or a nose ring is not fatal; driving at 80 or
100 miles per hour may well be.
Parents are to blame for some of this; teenagers follow
the examples they see their parents set. Life, for too many,
is about what you possess and how fast you can get it, and
what you posses can be the result of testing the limits
of business or sports or entertainment. But testing the
limits of a car by a teen has nothing to do with success
in life, unless they seek careers in NASCAR.
Our automobile-centered, high-speed, high-technology society
has to take some blame too. The car equals independence.
Jump in and go whenever and wherever you want.
And part of it is that teenagers are teenagers -- not children
but not adults either.
Parents may not want to take the hard line, saying we need
help getting the other children to ball practice or school,
and our teen drivers help out. This attitude is dangerous,
even for parents who trust their teenage drivers, and conflicts
with evidence that shows teenagers show off or become easily
distracted while driving, especially with other teens or
children in the car.
Adults need to help teens establish their priorities (although
that may mean some adults need to get their priorities in
order as well). By the way, are there links between driving
(and the freedom that comes with it) and teen pregnancy,
drug or alcohol use, AIDS, and, perhaps as important for
a teen's future, failure to get homework done? These issues
need to be studied.
Until there is legislation to raise the driving age, and
it has to happen state by state, families need to step in.
There are good reasons for teenagers to wait until 17 to
drive besides safety -- money savings on a car or insurance,
fewer worries for parents, more time for school. The idea
is not to treat teenagers like children but to ensure they
remain teenagers for another year.