When leaving the house to drive somewhere, one expects to come back safely. In fact, driving is a task with two goals, to arrive at one’s destination safely, followed by returning to the point of origin. This unfortunately is not the case for many drivers, as the risks on the road are largely caused by other driver’s errors, not one’s own errors. What if someone was to say that an unproportionally large amount of those errors are due to inexperience, more specifically the inexperience of young drivers. Unfortunately, such is the case across the world. Continuously, young drivers are an increased risk to the rest of the driving population than any other age group, giving one reason to believe that a young driver should be doing anything but driving in order to keep the general population safer.
Almost everywhere in the United States, someone by the age of 17 has already embarked on their first car ride without supervision. Whether it’s a trip to the store around the corner, or a trip across the state, this young driver encounters countless other drivers on the road they share. That is due to the low age restrictions on receiving a driver’s license in the country. Not only can one acquire their permit and eventually license at a young age, the requirements to receive one are far lesser than that of other countries. Having acquired my license at the age of 17, all it took was a written theory exam, to which the answers are widely available on the internet, a measly six hours of driving practice with an instructure, which in itself is not necessary to receive a license, only to receive a permit, and finally a five minute practical exam conducted in a parking lot with an examinator who clearly showed no care in who he handed a license to. This of course is the case in New Jersey, the only state to conduct its practical examinations in parking lots, and not on the actual roads these new drivers will be travelling on. Compare this quick and streamlined process to get everyone on the road at a young age to the rigorous testing and long list of requirements to receive one’s license in a country such as Germany, famous for being home to some of the best drivers of the world. There, students must first pass an eye examination, along with a first aid course in order to begin their theoretical learning. This must be done through a licensed school, in preparation for a two part theoretical exam. Upon completion of the theoretical exam, hopeful drivers must then complete thirty hours of road training in preparation for the practical exam. This exam, unlike the one in the United States, consists of driving on the Autobahn, the world’s fastest highway, driving at night, and finally driving in an urban environment. One mistake on any of these portions results in a failure, forcing further training and preparation for another take. When comparing these two standards, one must stop and think whether the youth in America is truly ready for the challenges of the road.
Taking this into account, the fact that AAA’s Research Brief titled Rates of Motor Vehicle Crashes, Injuries, and Deaths in Relation to Driver Age, United States, 2014 – 2015’s opening statement states that “drivers ages 16-17 continue to have the highest rates of crash involvement, injuries to themselves and others and deaths of others in crashes in which they are involved.” is unfortunately not at all surprising. Young drivers have, and continue to pose a larger risk to those around them on the road than any other age group. Driving as most people know requires a large amount of focus, concentration, and mechanical ability to safely and properly operate a motor vehicle. The tasks required to safely drive are much more than simply getting into a car and going, which may be the kind of approach young drivers take. Whether it’s due to inexperience in split second decision making scenarios, or the need to impress others, the age group of drivers who have just acquired their license or permit statistically poses a larger threat to the general public.
Another major aspect behind the disproportionate accident statistics among young drivers is the biological component behind decision making. Critical thinking, and proper risk management are skills that develop over time. It is not something that is commonly found in younger people, although there are obviously exceptions. As a majority however, young adults do not possess the cerebral capacity and development in order to properly assess and react to stressful situations. In fact, authors Figner and Bernd of Affective and deliberative processes in risky choice: Age differences in risk taking in the Columbia Card Task, a psychological study conducted to test risk taking skills across different age groups stated that “risk taking increases when individuals reach puberty, peaks in adolescence and early adulthood, and decreases again during adulthood” clearly supporting this theory in relation to a lack in driving abilities.
With driving being a skillful task that requires multi-step analysis of the situation at hand, the disproportionate accident statistics support the idea that there is a lack of development in young drivers’ decision making abilities in terms of driving. There is no reason why someone who is not fully developed should be trusted with a task that is statistically the most dangerous form of transportation. This combined with the fact that the age group has consistently led all other age groups in accident rates goes to show that age does in fact play a large role in the ability to safely operate a motor vehicle. Not only is there a disparity in age groups, we also see that the preparation and requirements for being able to drive are severely lacking in comparison to other countries. By not taking into account the lack of development, while failing to conform to the standards set by other nations, young drivers in the United States pose a danger to all with whom they share the roads.
Figner, B., Mackinlay, R., Wilkening, F., & Weber, E. (2009). Affective and Deliberative Processes in Risky Choice: Age Differences in Risk Taking in the Columbia Card Task. Journal of Experimental Psychology. Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 35(3), 709–730. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0014983
Tefft, B. (2020). Rates of Motor Vehicle Crashes, Injuries and Deaths in Relation to Driver Age, United States, 2014-2015. Retrieved 13 October 2020, from https://aaafoundation.org/rates-motor-vehicle-crashes-injuries-deaths-relation-driver-age-united-states-2014-2015/