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March 2001 Rant

"Driving Age"

There was a bunch of hype before and during this year's General Assembly session about the proper age for teenagers to obtain their learner's and driver's permits. The hype began when a couple of accidents happened, that resulted in the death of some teenagers, were very well publicized by the media. Members of the General Assembly noticed. The number of teens killed in vehicle accidents has climbed to about 150 per year. Members of the Assembly also noticed this fact. They fell for the trap laid for them by the media to do something right away to end teenagers getting killed in car accidents. Of course the members of the Assembly really can't stop that from happening but they're politicians, they're arrogant and they're trying to save the world in their own "I hope I continue to get re-elected" way.

The facts the members of the General Assembly ignored were that the teen death rate from accidents was growing at about the same rate as the teen population. More teens means more teens are killed in accidents. Also ignored was the fact that teen accident rates are close to the accident rates for those 70 and older.

The Assembly has voted to change the age to get a learner's permit from 15 to 15 years and 6 months. The driver's permit age will change from 16 to 16 and 3 months. Recall that a couple of years ago the age for a learner's permit was 15 and 8 months and you'll see the Assembly hasn't really changed the law very much. Of course teens will be restricted to not driving from midnight to 4 AM and will have a limit on the number of passengers they can carry but those will be secondary offenses. This means an officer cannot stop or ticket a teen for driving late or having a carload of people unless they do something else wrong first. This is not a law that will become a deterrent to late night driving or hauling a bunch of friends around. Even members of the General Assembly recognized that these laws are virtually unenforceable. When you take a hard look at what they've done it doesn't amount to much of anything. Does anyone one believe that waiting 90 days to get a license will make a teenager a better driver?

What upsets me is the timing of these new laws "restricting" teen driving. Why did they wait until a couple of accidents, highly touted by the media, before working on this problem? Why do politicians listen to media hype when determining what laws are needed? You can read the newspaper a couple of months before a session and see what the "hot" topics are according to the media. Those are the topics the Assembly seems to focus on.

Thirty years ago teenagers getting killed on the highways didn't seem to concern the members of the Assembly. I remember that during my freshman year of high school three sophomores were killed in car accidents. All of the teens were driving too fast and in a reckless manner, one involved alcohol. There was no media hype. The one accident that did involve alcohol was a 16-year-old whose father was a successful business owner. This young man got drunk at a party and was killed after he left the party. He was driving a fairly new Corvette and lost control of it at high speed on a cold, damp road. Today the Corvette has been replaced with 16-year-olds driving new Lexus's and other expensive cars. No law is going to stop parents from spoiling their children.

These were not the only ones I knew that were killed in car accidents. I knew several young men that died in their late teens and 20's from accidents. All involved driving too fast and many involved alcohol. At the time it was like an accepted fact that a few young men would be killed in car accidents.

That is no longer true today. Life has gotten more precious that it ever was 30 years ago. Thirty years ago there were no memorials on the highway to mark where someone was killed in an accident. Thirty years ago lawmakers didn't care about drinking and driving. If a cop stopped someone who was drunk, he told that person to drive home carefully. Today driving under the influence of alcohol is a serious offense.

An important factor being ignored by this driving age hype is the parents. Parents do not have to sign the paperwork for their son/daughter to get a learner's or driver's permit. Parents have the right to ask a judge to take away the license of their son/daughter until the kid turns 18. The politicians seem to forget that parents have the responsibility to both raise and control their children. I do not recall any parents speaking before the Assembly saying "please raise the driving age, I can't control my kid."

The politicians need to leave the job of raising children to the parents including deciding when they are ready to be trusted to drive. The Assembly's feel good efforts to fix the teenage driving "problem" have fell short of the intended goal. Let's hope they made the media happy.

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