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Safety Group Wants to Raise Driving Age

Posted: Sep 09, 2008 10:34 a.m.

The number one cause of death among teenagers is automobile crashes.  A leading auto safety group says that's reason enough to consider raising the minimum driving age across the United States.  In fact, the U.S. is now almost alone among industrialized countries in letting 16-year olds drive.  "Most of Europe as well as China, Japan, Russia and Brazil allow people to start driving at age 18," according to the Detroit Free Press.

"Taking aim at a longstanding rite of passage for 16-year-olds, an influential auto safety group is calling on states to raise the age for getting a driver's license to 17 or even 18," reports the AP.  The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety -- an auto safety research group funded by a consortium of insurance companies, "plans to present the proposal Tuesday at the annual conference of the Governors Highway Safety Association." 

An IIHS press release argues that raising the minimum driving age by even one year would save lives.  "Among US states, only New Jersey holds off licensure until age 17, and a recent analysis of the crash experience of young drivers indicates the benefits," the Institute writes.  "A rate of 4.4 16-year-old drivers per 100,000 population were in fatal crashes during the study years" in New Jersey, "compared with 20.7 per 100,000 in neighboring Connecticut, where 16 year-olds could get licenses." 

It isn't yet clear how the Governors' group will receive the proposal.  Barbara Harsha, executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association, told the AP that she "welcomes a debate on raising the driving age, as do many who deal with public health."  Many states have taken steps in recent years to "toughen laws without raising the driving age -- by banning teens from using cell phones while driving, imposing stricter driving curfews and expanding supervised driving time."  But no state has yet followed New Jersey's example.

The Institute's press release acknowledges that "a basic question is whether the risk associated with beginning drivers stems from their youth and immaturity or their inexperience behind the wheel. If it's mainly immaturity, then it would pay to put off licensure until teenagers get a little older. But if the problem is mostly inexperience, delaying licensure would simply put off the toll of beginners' crashes."  But, they argue, "A review of 11 studies published since 1990" shows that" new drivers who are 16 years old have higher crash rates than older teenagers who also are new drivers."

Opponents are already lining up to comment.  Massachusetts mother Margaret Menotti told the AP that "keeping teens from driving would only make them less responsible."  A headline in this morning's Minneapolis Star-Tribune reads "Caution, Teens: Effort to Raise Driving Age Ahead." 

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