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Should the Driving Age Be Raised?

More than 5,000 teenagers die each year in car accidents. Some say they're getting behind the wheel too early.

Although most teenagers don't like the idea of waiting longer to get their licenses, raising the driving age to 17 or 18 would reduce crashes involving young drivers and, in turn, save lives.

Most states allow driving at age 16, 16 , or somewhere in between, although the minimum age in South Dakota is only 14 and 3 months. Only New Jersey holds off until 17. Last year, the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety conducted a review of research on the subject, and it clearly indicates that an older driving age substantially reduces crash rates for young drivers.

The same conclusion has been reached in Great Britain, where the driving age is 17, and in the rest of the European Union, where most nations set the driving age at 18.

The trade-off is, of course, less mobility, but surveys of New Jersey teens show that they're just as active in school, work, and social activities as teens in surrounding states.

Research indicates that when teens begin driving at a later age, they're less likely to get into crashes during their first years on the road.

Some say more driver education is the answer. Studies, however, show no difference in crash rates for teens who take drivers ed, compared with those who don't.

In 2007, more than 4,000 teens died as occupants of passenger vehicles; 61 percent of them were in vehicles driven by other teens.

Ultimately, it's a political question: Is increased mobility worth the additional deaths? It may be a tough sell for teens, but raising the driving age makes sense.

Adrian Lund
President, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

Traffic accidents are a big problem in the United States. In 2007, there were more than 6 million accidents on America's roads, resulting in more than 40,000 deaths. There is an entire federal agency, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, devoted to reducing these numbers, but it has proven very difficult. So some people just want a quick fix.

It's easy for politicians and interest groups to put the blame on young people, who can't fight back. Blame a group that doesn't have high-powered lobbyists to defend them. Blame a group of people who can't even vote.

The truth is that the vast majority of teens are safe and responsible drivers. Those who want to raise the driving age have labeled teens guilty before they've gotten into an accident or before they've even sat behind the wheel of a car. They believe that because of your birth date, you are by definition dangerous.

But driving tests, which everyone has to pass to get a license, are supposed to weed out dangerous drivers whether they're 16 or 30.

Besides, it's inexperience, not age, that causes many accidents. Raising the driving age would just create inexperienced, accident-prone drivers at age 18 instead of 16.

Cars are necessary for mobility in this country. Teens need the ability to drive just as much as anyone else—to get to school, to get to work, to get to sports or band practice, or just to go out with their friends.

Politicians should roll up their sleeves and tackle the bigger problem of driving safety in general—and pick on someone their own size.

Alex Koroknay-Palicz
Executive Director, National Youth Rights Association