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Should We Raise the Legal Driving Age?

by Shae Holland, published

What is at the top of most teens to-do list? They can't wait to get behind the wheel. A teen must be 17 to join the military, 18 to vote or smoke, and 21 to drink, but can drive when much younger.

Minimum Driving Ages

When can a teen legally drive? Minimum driving ages vary from state to state. Unrestricted licenses are available in all states for 18-year-olds.

Depending on the state, your teen might be able to:

  • Get a learner's permit at 14
  • Drive with restrictions at 16
  • Drive with an unrestricted "adult" license at 16

Is 16 Too Young to Drive?

In most nations, 18 is the most commonly accepted minimum age for a learner's permit or provisional license. In the U.S., the debate on whether or not the average 16-year-old should have an unrestricted license resulted in the adoption of graduated licenses. These licenses typically carry a curfew on night driving, prohibit underage passengers, and require parental supervision.

Too often, these restrictions are ignored with deadly consequences.

Pros of Driving at 16

There are legitimate reasons for allowing teens to drive including:

  • Getting back and forth to school, a job, and activities;
  • Freeing a parent from chauffeur duties; and
  • Learning about the responsibilities of paying for gas, insurance and car maintenance.

Cons of Driving at 16

The reasons for allowing teens to drive primarily concern convenience. Those in favor of raising the driving age cite safety concerns.

Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control, the Department of Transportation and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety are revealing.

  • Drivers 19 and younger have a higher risk of being in a car crash than older drivers.
  • For every mile driven, teen drivers are three times more likely to be in a fatal accident.
  • Male teens are twice as likely as female teens to be in a fatal car crash.
  • Teen passengers increase the risk of an accident.
  • Maturity matters. Drivers 16-17 years old are almost twice as likely to be in an accident as 18-19 year old drivers.

Every parent must decide when their teen is ready to begin driving — sometimes this is earlier, and for some that comes later.

At the first sign of irresponsible behavior, strongly consider revoking driving privileges for a while. Putting up with a teen's unhappy behavior is better than getting the news that your child was killed or seriously injured in a car crash.

Photo Credit: fizkes /

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