Young People Ask . . .
Am I Ready to Drive?
“A TEENAGER without a [driver’s] license is just not a teenager.” No doubt many youths share the sentiments expressed by this teenage boy. To put it mildly, in many countries they can hardly wait to get behind the wheel of a car.
For many youths a driver’s license is a symbol of status and maturity. Being able to drive means freedom, a loosening of parental supervision. It means mobility, no longer having to depend on parents or older brothers and sisters for transportation. Admittedly, not all youths have sound motives for wanting to drive. Some, for example, want to drive because of the romantic possibilities it opens up with the opposite sex. And as Dr. Haim G. Ginott observed in his book Between Parent & Teenager, for some youths a car “represents . . . power, speed and excitement.”
Nevertheless, driven in a mature, responsible way, a car can be a real asset. Many young witnesses of Jehovah, for example, put cars to good use in their public ministry. A car also allows a youth to run helpful errands for others and to assist those who need transportation to Christian meetings.
Let’s assume, then, that you are of legal driving age. You have taken driver’s education courses in school and have carefully studied the rules of the road. Under your parents’ (or the school’s) direction, you have even obtained some behind-the-wheel experience. You may have passed a driver’s test and obtained a license! Does all of this mean that you are now ready to drive? Not necessarily.
Teenage Drivers: The Record Speaks
Dr. Ginott observed: “There are sixteen-year-olds who handle a car with skill and confidence; they drive better than their parents. In contrast, there are eighteen-year-olds so immature that it would be irresponsible to allow them to take the wheel.”
The facts bear out the truthfulness of this charge. The Statistical Abstract of the United States 1988 shows that drivers 21 years of age and under make up only about 10 percent of the driving population. Yet, they make up a grim 20 percent of the drivers involved in fatal car accidents. Furthermore, according to the book Driving High: The Hazards of Driving, Drinking, and Drugs, U.S. automobile accidents are the leading cause of death among young people 16 to 19! Additional thousands of youths have been scarred and maimed for life in auto mishaps.
Many of those injuries could have been prevented if young drivers had taken the simple precaution of wearing seatbelts. Dr. David Hochberg, however, laments the fact that many youths insist on their “right” to drive unencumbered by lifesaving restraints. Speaking directly to youths, Hochberg says: “I stand by the stretcher of those who survive, assess your injuries and plan needed repairs. I ask a question I’ve asked a hundred times: ‘How come you weren’t wearing your seat belt . . . ?’ Briefly, the bravado and the bluff return: ‘I’ve got my rights, Doc.’”
All too often, though, youthful “rights” collide with the rights of others to health and happiness. An article published in Car and Driver magazine reported on a study that showed that “teenage drivers kill other people more often than themselves. More than half of all people killed in crashes for which a teenager was responsible were either the teen-ager’s passengers or occupants of the ‘nonresponsible’ vehicle.” The article concluded that “simply put, teen-age drivers can be reasonably viewed as nothing less than a menace.”
This dismal driving record exists despite the fact that young drivers have quicker reflexes, sharper vision, better hearing, greater manual dexterity, and often a better understanding of the mechanics of automobiles than their elders. Obviously, skill alone does not make a competent driver, nor does the fact that one is of legal age and possesses the knowledge necessary to pass a driver’s test.a
Why Many Youths Make Poor Drivers
Says The Family Handbook of Adolescence: “Physical prowess is a relatively minor issue for driving. . . . Physical ability almost always precedes emotional capability.” Yes, part of the problem with young drivers is the nature of youth itself. Solomon said that “the beauty of young men is their power,” that is, youths may abound in strength and ability. (Proverbs 20:29) However, they are often sadly lacking in good judgment. Indeed, by their reckless driving, some youths have shown that foolishness is still very much ‘tied up with their hearts.’—Proverbs 22:15.
Some are thus prone to be careless, to use a car for thrills and excitement, to dare and be dared. In the hands of such youths, a car is a potential murder weapon; a driver’s license, a license to kill. Consider, for example, an accident that took place involving a 17-year-old high school football player named Harvey. On his first night out alone with a car, Harvey made a sudden start at a crosswalk—and ran down a mother and child.
Harvey’s athletic coach pointed to the cause of this tragedy: “If they had asked me, I could have told them Harvey wasn’t ready emotionally to drive. He has a bad temper in the locker room and needles other players. He is a flashy performer and carries a chip on his shoulder. His mental attitude showed itself in his driving as soon as he was unsupervised. The boy just had to be first away when the light turned green.”
Sad to say, many license-bearing youths are equally ‘not emotionally ready to drive.’ In his book Licensed to Kill, Ronald M. Weiers quoted a study done on teenage drivers by a major U.S. insurance company. The study pointed to “the carelessness, exuberance and tendency to ‘show off’ of the teen years” as a major factor in many auto accidents involving teenage drivers.
Of particular concern is the fact that so many youths take to the road under the influence of alcohol. The most recent statistics in the United States show that drivers under 21 made up almost a quarter of the alcohol-influenced drivers who were involved in fatal accidents. Explain the authors of How to Survive Your Adolescent’s Adolescence: “Driving while intoxicated is particularly common in teens for three reasons: (1) they are inexperienced in handling both drinking and driving, and thus have less of an experiential base to draw on in making judgments about either activity; (2) they’re trying to impress their friends by how ‘mature’ they are; and (3) they don’t think that getting arrested for drunken driving or having an accident could happen to them, only to someone else. But statistics from the last decade have shown quite decisively that up to 60 percent of those killed in drunk driving accidents are teenagers.”
‘No! You Cannot Drive!’
In view of all these facts, it is little wonder that some have called for governments to impose higher age requirements for driver’s licenses, even calling for driving curfews. More pertinent, though, may be the reaction of your parents.
Knowing well the hazards of teenage driving, some parents refuse to allow their children to drive even when they have reached the legal driving age. One parent said: “We don’t allow our sixteen-year-old son to drive. We read the papers and know what can happen. I’m not going to worry myself to death every time he is out driving.”
Such a position may seem unjust and unreasonable to you. After all, you may be a serious, conscientious youth, not at all prone to take chances with your life or the lives of others. The problem is, How do you convince your folks of this? Our next issue will discuss this question.
a While some countries, such as Japan, have rigorous standards, driver’s licenses are handed out quite routinely in the United States. Testing procedures there have thus been criticized as being grossly inadequate.
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A car is a symbol of prestige, power, and excitement
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Improperly or carelessly driven, a car becomes a potential murder weapon