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GUEST COLUMN: Raising the driving age would save lives

By: John B. Roberts II
April 24, 2018 Updated: April 24, 2018 at 4:05 am
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With high school students across the country clamoring for adults to keep them safe, it's time we elders take action - on teenage driving. Automobile accidents are the leading cause of death for teenagers.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 2,820 teenagers died in 2016, up 3 percent from the prior year. It would take 164 more school shootings as deadly as Stoneman Douglas High School this year to equal the annual carnage caused by teenage drivers.

Six teenagers die every day from car crashes. Getting into a car with a teenager behind the wheel is the riskiest thing another teenager can do.

Fifty-six percent of teenage driving deaths involve the driver. The other 44 percent are their passengers. Letting teenagers have driver's licenses at age 16 puts them, other motorists, and pedestrians into unnecessary danger.

Raising the legal age to purchase a rifle to 21 may prevent some school shootings. Raising the legal age for driving from 16 to 21 will definitely save thousands of teenagers annually from a premature death and almost a quarter-of-a-million more from injuries in car wrecks.

Even a modest increase in the legal driving age to 18 would save lives. The majority of accidents among teenagers occur with 16 and 17-year-old drivers.

Other countries recognize that 16 is too young for a driver's license. Switzerland, which has one of the lowest accident rates in Europe, makes its young people wait until they are 18 to get a driver's license.

A look at the causes of teenage accidents explains why deferring driving saves lives. The state of California publishes good statistics on the cause of fatal teenage accidents:

- Thirty-five percent are due to speeding.

- Twenty percent are from failure to yield the right-of-way.

- Fourteen percent are caused by improper turns.

- Fourteen percent result from failure to stop at a sign or a red light.

- A mere 5 percent are attributable to alcohol or drug use, almost equal to the 3 percent from driving on the wrong side of the road.

Most of these accidents stem from features inherent to the teenage brain's inability to gauge risk, assess danger, control impulses, and resist peer pressure. All these factors change with just a few more years of maturation.

Raising the driving age is unlikely to win praise from the teen marchers, even if it is manifestly in their best interests. But if they want adults to take action that will really improve their safety and reduce their odds of premature death, deferring their driving privileges is the way to do it.

States contemplating a change in the age to purchase firearms should incorporate changes in the legal age for driving into the measures they enact in response to the students' demands for improved safety. Federal legislation affecting gun ownership could include an incentive to encourage states to raise their legal driving age, like curbing federal highway funds for those who insist on letting 16-year-olds drive.

It won't be popular, but if the goal is to make the kids safe it's the right thing to do. Isn't that what being an adult is all about?

As compensation for having to wait a few more years to get a license, states might consider lowering the drinking age.

Switzerland lets its youths legally consume beer and wine at age 16, and spirits at age 18.

By the time Swiss kids get behind the wheel, they've had two years' experience learning to drink responsibly.

That's one more reason why Switzerland had its lowest accident rate in 80 years in 2017 and is among the leaders in Europe for road safety.

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John B. Roberts II is an author, artist, and television producer living in Colorado Springs. He served in the Reagan White House during the first and second terms and was an international political consultant.

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