Three months ago, Road Rules provided Grade 10 students at a Vancouver high school with background information for their essay assignment questioning the 16-year-old minimum driving age. Our summer reading thus far has included a sampling of their essays.
All of the essayists implicitly regard the dreadful statistic—that motor vehicle crashes remain the leading cause of injury and death for young people—as a challenge. Collectively, their essays reveal teens who are self-assured but also well aware of their inexperience, and concerned about the risks stereotypical teen behavior can pose to other road users. The majority—62%—argued for raising the driving age.
Part of our presentation noted that 18 years appears to be the world-wide norm, and that there were historical and cultural reasons for British Columbia having chosen 16 years as the age to begin the graduated licensing program. Not surprisingly, therefore, of those advocating raising the minimum, 18 was the usual pick, but almost half didn’t specify. One proposed 21 years.
This group of essays listed a host of characteristics rendering teens too immature to begin driving at 16: a propensity to take risks and be careless, to be easily distracted, to be easily influenced, and to be, alas at the mercy of their lack of experience. Neuroscientific studies describing teen development were cited reinforcing these stereotypes. While some expressly acknowledged exceptional behaviour, most implicitly concurred with the stereotypes and seemed to regard them as convincing explanation for the host of teen driving statistics.
Most essays addressed the topics of teen drinking and driving, and teen phoning/texting and driving by citing the statistics. No one went so far as to confirm or deny on the basis of his or her personal experience that underage drinking, and texting and driving occur. It would have been interesting to hear whether or not their personal experiences conform to the stereotypes. Their position on the main issue suggests they do—but their majority is sizable and they sound so eminently sensible and mature.
…Which is not to say otherwise of the status quo supporters. They dispute the stereotypes—“absorbing information at sixteen comes easily,” regarding driving as an essential part of modern life, and offered practical reasons for needing to drive at 16 including not having to trouble their parents to drive them to their work and other activities and, in turn, being able to help out their parents with driving. They also express respect and regard for the efficacy of the current regime of motor vehicle laws. One argued that learning to drive as a young teen, “in a situation where their freedom is [still] limited” is the ideal time.
There are important areas of agreement. Both groups want more and better driver training, some saying it should be school curriculum. Both groups mention how important it is for parents to model safe driving behaviour, and how influential—to the negative—are media depictions of street racing and dangerous driving. And both groups recognize the environmental and health benefits of also using alternate modes of transportation.