Living with Children
Copyright 2009, John K. Rosemond
My oldest grandson, not yet 15, is already taking drivers education. In fact, he’s already been behind the wheel with his instructor, on an interstate highway no less. I’m resigned to his obtaining his license in a little more than a year. I’m not happy about it. I’m resigned. Mind you, he’s more trustworthy and responsible (in my objective opinion) than nine-point-nine out of ten of his peers. He’s a good if not great kid, and as my readers know, my standards are high. Still, I’m shaking my head in incredulous resignation.
With a few truly disfunctional exceptions, everyone's grandchildren are more trustworthy and responsible than nine-point-nine out of ten peers. They are also better looking. Ask any grandparent.
Disclaimer: When my kids turned 16, each received a car from their hugely naïve parents. Would that I had some things to do over again.
Two weeks ago, a San Diego journalist called asking for some quotes for a story he’s doing on teenage drivers. The story was prompted by the recent automobile deaths of two San Diego teens in separate accidents. My beloved grandson’s life flashed in front of me.
I told said journalist that giving a drivers license to a teenage child (and if anyone has failed to notice, they are still children) under age 18 was like giving the kid a revolver with ten thousand chambers, only one of which is loaded with a bullet, and telling him to point it at his head and pull the trigger. Would any responsible parent do such a thing? Then, pray tell, why do otherwise responsible parents allow teenage children to obtain drivers licenses and provide them with cars?
Well, why do we let anyone drive? Why let anyone fly in an airplane? Why let anyone get out of bed in the morning, considering all the risks? Granted, teenagers are 10% of the population, but account for 12% of the automobile craches. The chart in that last link shows ages 16-20 accounting for 5,658 automobile deaths in 2006. That's a five year age span. But ages 21-24 accounted for 4,701 automobile deaths in just a four year age span. Do a little math to equalize the age brackets, either on the high end of the older age group, and the 21-24 (now the 21-25) age group has a higher fatality toll than the teenagers !
In other words, it's not quite honest to compare 5 years worth of teenage fatalities with only 4 years' of their elders. The elders are more dangerous.
When would I allow driving privileges? he asked. When two conditions were satisfied—the 18th birthday and a high school diploma. Would that reduce the drop-out rate or what?
One thing you learn if you study statistics and economics for very long, even at the high school level: Half the high school kids are below average. I repeat, half the high school kids are below average. Just like half the florists, plumbers, morticians, doctors, fast food restaurants, Beatles albums and philosophy professors are below the "average" for florists, plumbers, morticians, etc.
A lot of those kids can't do high school work, just like a lot of their older brethren can't do college work. But many of them are great drivers. Many of them will become professional drivers. How in the heck do you justify tying high school proficiency to a drivers license?
The 16-year-old driving privilege was established when cars were less powerful, roads were less crowded, and 16-year-olds were considerably more mature than they are today. Furthermore, these laws were passed to allow teens to participate more fully in the operation of family farms. They were not passed with the intention that teens would drive for discretionary, largely recreational purposes.
That paragraph deserves a rant of its own. The government granting "privileges" to the serfs, based on lofty, noble "intentions", and whether or not the driving is discretionary, recreational, necessary, vital, or used to further the glorious ambitions of the state..... Naw. Let's don't get sidetracked.
Do teens need driving privileges, much less cars? Obviously not. In Europe, where teens seem to live satisfactory lives (by all measures, they are much happier on average than US teens), the driving age is 18. Even then, few young adults drive cars. They walk, ride bicycles, use public transportation, or putt around on scooters.
Someone clamors for my attention: “But John! Lots of small towns and rural areas don’t have public transportation!” But the same is true in Europe. And, to repeat, European teens are lots happier than they are on this side of the pond.
This reminds me of the first road trip we made to Oklahoma with our friend and employee Igor, who came from the former Yugoslavia. We were driving north on the I-35 wilderness between Fort Worth and Oklahoma City, seeing nothing but pasture for miles around. Igor finally broke the silence by saying "In my country, we put our towns closer together."
I suggest that the primary reason the driving age is not going to be raised any time soon is because the current law is a huge convenience to parents. They are not only relieved of having to transport the young licensee, but they can also assign him to driving younger siblings to after-school activities and the like. So even though these young drivers cannot vote, state legislators are going to protect their driving privileges. Given that interstate commerce is involved, we can only hope that Congress will take up the issue.
The kid drivers don't just transport younger siblings. They transport.... our parents. Their parents' parents. Think of the implications and reasons for that assignment. I trust my teenage daughter on I-20, and will take a nap in the car when she's driving. If my mother is driving, I'm on full alert. I usually go ahead and take the wheel.
Given the facts, which lead to the inescapable conclusion that giving driving privileges to a teen, any teen, puts the youngster at far, far more risk than letting a 5-year-old play outside unsupervised (which most of the same parents would not allow), I must conclude that this is not, to be polite, the most prudent of moves.
I'd like to see the data on that statement. I don't think anyone keeps records on the danger of letting 5-year-olds play outside unsupervised (although I played outside, unsupervised, both at home and in town quite a bit.) The idea of the current generation of Precious Snowflakes doing anything unsupervised is supposed to terrify us into agreement, though.
I invite anyone out there to justify this to me in rational terms. You can send your comments to me through my website at http://www.rosemond.com/.
Let's look at the data..... From the previous link:
Of Male drivers killed between 15 and 20 years of age 38% were speeding and 24% had been drinking and driving.
About 30% of teens reported that within the previous 30 days, they had been a passenger in a car with a driver who had been drinking alcohol. One in 10 teens said that they personally had driven after drinking alcohol.
Teen drivers killed in auto crashes after drinking and driving, 74% did not wear a seat belt.
Family psychologist John Rosemond’s latest book, The Well-Behaved Child, is now in bookstores.