Editorial: Keep The Kids Carless

Joshua Welch
by Joshua Welch

While allowing children as young as 15 years old to drive is not the worst idea we’ve had, it registers fairly high on the stupid meter. It also happens to be a problem we can do something about without too much difficulty, if we choose to do so.

When 8-year-old Vaclav Hajek was struck by a car and killed on Bailey Hill Road in 2007, I was teaching at nearby Kennedy Middle School, where the 16-year-old driver previously had attended. According to police reports, a woman had stopped her car to allow Vaclav to cross when the teen driver accelerated around her and struck Vaclav. The vehicle was traveling at an estimated 65 mph in a 35 mph zone and left a 211-foot-long skid mark.

In the days following, I heard nothing but good things about the young driver from Kennedy staffers. By all accounts he seemed to be a bright, upstanding young man. Like most 16-year-olds, Shawn Tichenor simply was not mature enough to be behind the wheel. While Shawn carries some responsibility, so does the society which entrusted a child with a privilege that should be granted only to adults.

As an avid cyclist, I regularly witness irresponsible, dangerous, teen driving up close. When I spot speeders or other aggressive driving, the person behind the wheel is almost always a very young driver.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, “The rate of crashes, fatal and nonfatal, per mile driven for 16-year-old drivers is almost 10 times the rate for drivers ages 30 to 59.” Traffic accidents are the leading killer of American teens — approximately one dead youngster every three days.

The benefits of an increase in the driving age far outweigh the drawbacks. Fewer teen drivers means safer roadways, reduced pollution and greenhouse gases, lower insurance premiums, less traffic, greater use of alternative transportation, increased cardiovascular activity, better health and reduced parental stress.

Increasing the driving age potentially could be explosive for Oregon’s biking culture. Without the option to drive, many young people would drift to cycling — possibly getting hooked for life. The roadways would be safer and more appealing with fewer immature drivers, and the community would have more incentive to make the roads safer for biking with more teens behind the handlebars.

With all of the ecological benefits, this would be a smart measure for environmental groups to help bring to the ballot if our elected officials won’t legislate an age increase. One of the primary opposition groups, fortunately, isn’t of legal voting age.

New Jersey is leading the way with the highest minimum licensing age in the country. At age 16, one is allowed to start taking driving lessons. At age 17, they can take the test for a restricted driver’s license as long as they have completed six hours of behind-the-wheel supervised driving. At 18, a full driver’s license is received.

In Oregon, at age 15 one is eligible for an “instruction permit,” which allows you to drive with a licensed driver who is at least 21 and has had his or her license for at least three years. At age 16 they’re eligible for their license. Before being awarded their license, they have to complete 50 hours of “supervised driving” at an Oregon Department of Transportation-approved driver education course or 100 hours with a parent or guardian. (I could have talked my mother into signing off on 100 hours in a matter of minutes). They also have to pass an electronic “Safe Driving Practices Test” as well as a “behind the wheel” driving test.

Most teens have the ability to drive a vehicle and pass an electronic test; it’s maturity they’re lacking. This is much less about hours spent on the road and much more about hours spent alive. Driving to school or “supervised driving” simply doesn’t produce the responsibility required for driving.

We have decided that one must be 18 to go to war and to vote, age 21 before drinking a beer, but we stupidly permit children as young as 15 to drive what equate to enormous metal battering rams. Expecting children as young as 15 to drive responsibly is a little like expecting them to be abstinent. You can ask Sarah Palin how that strategy worked out.

Allowing children to drive may make sense for the insurance industry and car companies, but it makes little sense for public safety.

Driving should be for adults only.

[This editorial first appeared in the Eugene Register Guard]

Joshua Welch
Joshua Welch

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  • DarkSpork DarkSpork on Nov 03, 2009

    Increasing the driving age could alleviate the issue of immaturity but won't fix the issue of inexperience. Somebody I have worked with obtained his license a year ago at age 24 and has had 4 accidents in the past year. I doubt it is a good idea to restrict the power available in vehicles for newer drivers. On one hand it makes abuse less likely. On the other hand the ability to accelerate is just as important as the ability to slow down, stop, and steer (in terms of safety). Underpowered vehicles can be safely driven, but there are occasions the ability to accelerate can help to avoid an accident (I have been in these situations a few times, and was grateful I didn't have a 4 cylinder car). Younger people do make more immature decisions, I know that my driving was very reckless when I was in High School, but without that driving experience I would have had a lot of the same problems learning to drive at 18. It's a part of our culture, and we can afford to abolish it in urban areas, but I feel there would be little to gain from it in small towns.

  • Joeaverage Joeaverage on Nov 03, 2009

    On the question of HP is just part of the arm's race we have in America these days. If we legislated more 90HP cars then average traffic speeds would slow down a little too. I lived overseas where a significant portion of the traffic had as little as 20 horsepower and while the top speeds were often 120 km/h the acceleration from the stop lights was more modest. An American might describe it as choked by the slowest cars but I disagree and folks there just coped. I'd like to see a return of low power cars. I think the rush to sub-7 sec 0-60 times for commuter cars is a waste and just encourages the rest of us to buy something faster the next time we buy a vehicle. Just burns alot of gasoline and wear out alot of tires and brakes. I drive a car with 115HP quite successfully. I still outrun most of the cars in the traffic around me here if I want to. Previous cars had as little as 40 HP and still even sharing the road with 300 HP traffic I was fine. I do recognize that some metropolitan areas have very fast paced traffic. In fact I really dislike driving to Nashville or Atlanta (among others) regardless of how powerful my vehicle is. Again my 115HP four banger does just fine. The pace doesn't help shorten my trip that much (perhaps mere minutes). America's vehicle HP is out of control I think and we take advantage of it more often than we need to. Put more slow-poke cars back into the mix (70s/ early 80s era economy performance) and traffic would slow down again and make it safer for everyone and I still don't think anyone's commute will be that much slower.

  • Lorenzo Subaru had the ideal wagon - in 1995. The Legacy Outback was a straight two-box design with rear quarter and back windows you could see out of, and was available in brown with a 5-speed manual, as God and TTAC commenters intended. It's nice they're not raising prices, but when you've lost the plot, does it matter?
  • Bkojote Remember a month a go when Cleveland wanted to create a more walkable Cleveland and TTAC's 'BIG GOVERNMENT IS THE PROBLEM' dumbest and dullest all collectively crapped their diapers? Here's the thing- look on any American highway and it's littered with people who don't /want/ to be driving or shouldn't be. Look at every Becky on her phone during the morning commute in her Tucson, look at every Brad aggro driving his 84 month loan GMC. Hell look how many drivers nowadays can't even operate a headlight switch. You expect these people to understand a stoplight? In my neighborhood alone 4 people have been rear ended at lights from someone on their phone. Distracted driving over the past 10 years has spiked, and it's only going to get worse unless Becky has an alternative, because no judge is going to pull her license when 'she needs it to get to work!' but heaven forbid she not check fb/tiktok for 40 minutes a day.
  • Scott Shouldn't the The Italian Minister for Business be criticizing The Milano for being too ugly to be Italian?Better use of resources doing that....
  • Steve Biro Frankly, while I can do without Eyesight and automatic start-stop, there is generally less B-S with Subarus in terms of design, utility and off-road chops than with many other brands. I just hope that when they adopt Toyota’s hybrid system, they’ll also use Toyota’s eCVT.
  • The Oracle These are all over the roads in droves here in WNC. Rarely see one on the side of the road, they are wildly popular, capable, and reliable. There is a market for utilitarian vehicles.