15, 16, or 18?

At what age should our teens be hitting the road?


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When my son got his learner’s permit at age 15, he was upset that his father and I set driving standards that were twice the level of our state standards. To us, the more our son learned how to drive with a parent in the car, the better driver he would be. When he turned 16 and got his license, he wasn’t happy when he had to sign a driving contract with us that included 10 different driving situations and how those driving situations would gradually be phased in over the course of six months—if he showed us that he could handle the driving responsibilities of each phase.

These driving situations included when he could drive at night (not at all at first), when he could have a teen passenger with him (not at all at first), when he could drive in rain or storms (not at all at first), how far he could drive (not far at first), and so on. The contract also included what would happen if he didn’t abide by the contract or he got into an accident or got a ticket. Even though we were tough on our son, I believe these guidelines made a difference.

Now that our son is 20 years old, he has had only one speeding ticket. We consider ourselves fortunate since his driving record is much better than many of his peers. We know of teenagers driving into school buses (“How can you not see a big orange school bus?” the mother of that teenager said to me), getting hit by a semi-truck at 70 miles per hour on the interstate (thankfully, everyone walked away okay, except for the car, which was totaled), and one teenager who had so many accidents that her mother took away her driving privileges until she earned all the money to pay back for all the damages, which took her three years.

I believe driving is a privilege, not a right, and teenagers need parents who are willing to teach them how to drive well, set down firm guidelines, and be patient and compassionate with them when teen drivers make mistakes. The truth is some teenagers aren’t ready to get a driver’s permit at age 14 or 15. Some aren’t ready to get a driver’s license at age 16. For those who are, they need to understand the responsibility and safety they need to take before getting behind the wheel of a car.

7 Facts You Should Know:

1. Each state has a different age requirement for a driving learner’s permit.1 The current range is between 14 and 16 years, depending on the state.2
2. Three U.S. senators want to create a federal law for graduated driver licensing (GDL) so that laws are consistent across all 50 states.3 The current bill aims to raise the driving learner’s permit to age 16 and the age for getting an unrestricted license to age 18.4
3. Based on 11 different criteria, U.S. News & World Report recently ranked the best states for teen drivers. The best three states include the District of Columbia, California, and Colorado.5 The worst three states are Iowa, North Dakota, and South Dakota.6
4. Car accidents are the leading cause of death for teenagers.7 The period between Memorial Day and Labor Day is the deadliest for teen drivers.8
5. For young teenagers (ages 15 to 17), driving errors tend to be the cause of car accidents.9 For older teens, the cause of car accidents tends to involve alcohol.10
6. Twenty-six percent of 16- to 17-year-olds admit that they have texted while driving,11 even though it’s illegal for them to do so in most states.12
7. Forty percent of teenagers say they have been in a car when the driver used a cell phone in a way that put themselves or others in danger.13 Almost half of all teens say they have been in a car when the driver was texting.14

Talk Further

Ask your teenager: “What needs to change to make teen drivers safer?”

Explore Further

What do you think of teenage drivers? Share your comments below.

Just because the law states a child can get a permit and/or a drivers license at a certain age, or after a certain number of requirements-does not make that child guaranteed that they are ready to drive? Each child learns at a different pace-does every child have potty training down at 2 yrs old,or by the time they are 4 they can read, is every child ready for Kindengarden by 5 yrs old ? Of course not, the law is just a average guide line, but we as parents must know our child and know if they are truly ready to handle the responsibility and privilege to drive. My oldest daughter took drivers ed short shortly after her her 15 birthday,but I didn’t allow her to get her license until she was 17 and 1/2 yrs old-and believe me I work and she was in sports after school it would have been a lot easier on myself to allow it sooner,but she wasn’t ready. My second child took drivers ed when she was 15 1/2 yrs old and didn’t get her license until a few weeks before her 18 birthday. My oldest is nearing 21 yr old in a few months besides someone rear ending her car thats all thats happened -I feel very blessed so far. The 18 yr old is only been driving a few months so I will keep my fingers crossed. The point I am trying to say to all parents is this you know if your child is ready or not-so you have a choice to make when to allow your child the privilege to drive. Sending them out before they are ready could be a costly mistake.

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