Getting a driver's license on a teen's 16th birthday has become a rite of passage. But there are legitimate reasons why your adolescent may not be ready to take on the responsibility of driving a car -- and it's nothing personal. The fact that car crashes are the top cause of death for U.S. teenagers is enough to make many parents withhold the car keys.
Even though your teen may be very responsible, in general 16- to 19-year-olds have some pretty dismal statistics when it comes to driving. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that drivers in this age group, particularly males, are likely to underestimate hazardous conditions, drive too fast and get distracted by their passengers. In addition, they are the least likely to wear a seat belt, and are more likely to crash if they drive after consuming alcohol.
The consequences for irresponsible behavior behind the wheel can be devastating. In 2010, crashes caused by teen drivers injured 282,000 youngsters and killed another 2,700, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In fact, adolescents in the drivers seat are three times as likely to be involved in a fatal collision than older drivers. Those at greatest risk for a crash include males, teenagers who have just gotten their license and those who transport other teenage passengers.
Development of the Teen Brain
Teen drivers are not only vulnerable because they need more experience behind the wheel, but also because of the unique makeup of the adolescent brain. During adolescence, the brain is at its peak in terms of acquiring and retaining new information. However, the areas needed for impulse control and mediating emotional responses are the last to develop and may not reach full maturity until the early 20s, according to a study by the National Institutes of Health.
Changing the Law
With so many reasons why 16-year-olds shouldn't drive, the public has become interested in changing the laws regarding teen drivers. In fact, a 2004 poll taken by USA Today revealed that 61 percent of Americans favored raising the driving age from 16. Politicians at the state level who are trying to pass such bills, however, have an uphill battle in trying to convince their colleagues to sign on to legislation that would raise the driving age. As of 2013, New Jersey is the only state with a driving age above 16, while six others have minimum ages of under 16.
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