She's a character, she has opinions.

“Even the poor kids have cars.”

with 3 comments

You know how you collect these relatives by marriage who sometimes leave you gawking open-mouthed, at the things they say? Via marriage I’m related to a young lady, let’s call her Kennedy, shall we? When Kennedy was in high school we celebrated a holiday at her family’s home, with her doctor father and her stay-at-home mother, and her four other siblings. Kennedy was old enough to drive, had passed all her tests and gotten her license, and Kennedy wanted a car. Badly.

“Even the poor kids have cars,” she said.

Well, then. Her implications were clear. If the poor kids had cars then certainly her parents–in their tremendous home with their several out of the country vacations each year–could afford to buy one for her. What she missed was that those “poor kids” (you know, the average people, like you and me) needed those cars to get to their jobs and other places because mom and dad probably couldn’t drive them back and forth because mom and dad were working, too. Maybe public transportation didn’t go where they needed to go, or didn’t exist in their small community, or run at the times they needed it to run. That they paid for their cars (and their gas and their insurance) out of the money they received from working their jobs and that some teens have to have a job in order to have the money that Kennedy’s parents just handed to her.

I think the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety is missing the same things.

The Institute, concerned about traffic fatalities–the top killer of teens–suggests that the driving age should be raised to 17 or 18 across the country. [Source]

It’s been a rite of passage for generations – going through driver’s ed, practicing on the road with a learner’s permit, and finally getting the long-awaited driver’s license. But that rite could be deferred if a new set of recommendations is implemented. Communities all over the country are taking a new look at what age teenagers should be allowed to get their licenses, following the release of a study this week that found fewer teens died when the age is higher.

If the change takes effect, teenagers are certain not to like it, and some parents may not be thrilled about having to chauffeur their children to activities and social events. But the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says an older age for licensing would save lives.

Great idea, but way to miss the point, guys. If you prevent teens from driving you aren’t just inconveniencing parents who have to “chauffeur their children to activities and social events.” Those are the lucky kids, the ones who don’t have to work, and who can afford those activities and events. But what about the poor kids Kennedy knows? How will they get back and forth to their jobs, medical appointments, and other places they have to be? And what about their parents who might then have to take time off from their jobs and lose pay in order to take their children to places they could have otherwise gone on their own.

Not every parent works on salary like Kennedy’s dad, or stays at home like Kennedy’s mom. Not every teen needs only to get back and forth to lessons and parties. Not every town has low-cost, convenient public transportation. Not every person has the options Kennedy and her family have.

The solution here isn’t preventing teenagers from driving, it’s educating them properly before allowing them to drive. And it’s thinking about who you might be harming while trying to help.

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Written by tldegray

September 10, 2008 at 1:04 am

3 Responses

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  1. Great points. And it brings up the urban/rural (and even urban/suburban) divide again: those areas simply DO NOT have public transportation, or if they do, the service is limited in time and area. It’s not a blanket option.

    It’s still possible to get a driver’s license at 14, actually, if you certify that it’s because you need it to help with the family farm. A number of kids I went to high school with had those licenses- and used them to get to their after-school jobs that they needed because family farms don’t exactly bring in all that much money.


    September 10, 2008 at 1:33 am

  2. I think parents need to take a more active role in determining – realistically, which may be hard for the My-Baby-Can-Do-No-Wrong moms and dads – whether or not their children are allowed to have licenses. Teens in situations where maybe they need to drive to get to work, or so that their parents don’t have to take time off of work to drive them, or whatever, have in many cases been forced by their circumstances to grow up a little faster and understand how important driving safe is.

    I remember a girl from my high school whose wealthy family continued fixing up her huge Escalade (or whatever massive SUV they’d given her) after 15+ accidents and hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage to her car, other cars, the offending lamppost, the MEDIAN STRIP in one memorable case, etc… And I hoped every day they’d come to terms with reality. Her problem was (and she OPENLY admitted this) was that she texted while driving ALL THE TIME. At that point, mom and dad need to wake up before the girl starts racking up a body count because it is only a matter of time. And if you look at me, I’m pretty young, but I’ve only had two VERY VERY minor accidents so far and I understand that I need to be vigilant every time I get behind the wheel of a car. I stay off my cell unless I need directions, and so forth. It sucks that in order to keep young girls like her off the road, legally, young girls like me might get stuck off the road, too. Though I’d be really grateful if everybody learned how to drive safely and politely, and I didn’t feel like I was going to die almost every time I get onto route 3, I’d settle for taking the few highest risk drivers out of the equation so that I have a higher chance of reaching my destination, or even crossing the street, alive.


    September 10, 2008 at 2:23 am

  3. Sonia–

    “have in many cases been forced by their circumstances to grow up a little faster and understand how important driving safe is.”

    I’m not sure raising the driving age would help with that, to tell you the truth. I think that a great deal of the difference between accidents had by 16 year olds and accidents had by 18 year olds is that the 18 year olds have two years of actual driving experience while the 16 year olds have none. If you adjust the age upward you’ll have the same problem.

    Chronological age isn’t a marker of maturity, the Institute can’t count on that extra year or two to automatically make safe drivers out of teenagers. (How many adult driving-texters do you know? I thought so.) And parents alone can’t decide who is and is not ready to drive. I think what Mass. does is the way to go–requiring drivers’ ed, a certain number of hours behind the wheel, etc. Education and training. Parents, of course, do have to educate and monitor their own children, but we all know kids act differently when mom’s not around, so a good foundation will help a great deal.

    Then, as I said above, raising the driving age is going to harm a great many more people than it helps and that issue is most definitely an issue of income that they are not considering.



    September 10, 2008 at 4:06 am

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