Sunday, January 24, 2010

Fewer teens driving

16-year-old licensed drivers (by year)

According to the Post, More teens are choosing to wait to get driver's licenses, which we think is a good thing. According to NHSTA, "traffic crashes are the leading cause of death for teenagers in America."

It's become more difficult to get a license as a teenager. 60 hours of instruction are needed, and many schools are cutting back on driver's ed. Then there's the cost of gas, insurance, a vehicle.

Technology has also had an impact:
Michelle Wei, 19, who got her license as a senior, was happy to walk to school and carpool to soccer games. Most of her friends lived within a few blocks. "If I couldn't get a ride to see my friend who lives a town over, I could talk on IM," she said. "Or Skype." The digital world, she said, "made it very easy not to drive."
We've got the perfect solution; ride a bike. Most teens live within a short ride from school. They'll get some exercise and won't be as dependent on parents or other teens for getting around.

[Update 26Jan2010: A followup letter to the editor appeared in Today's Post, D.C. transit makes it easier for teens to put off driving:
Although this area deserves a better Metro system, the current system transports many teenagers who have places to go, increasing their independence. Most older teenagers don't have parents willing to drive them around, nor do they want to stay home on weekends. My son, a high school senior, has been using Metrobus and rail since he was 12 to get to school, friends' houses, downtown Washington, and—since it was built—Nationals Park.
Jenifer Madden wrote about her son's experiences riding the bus a while back in the Post.]


On the other hand - what should be the leading cause of teen death? Heart disease? Suicide? Accidental death ain't so bad in comparison. Although of course one would like to see it minimized.

I am concerned that this means people are learning to drive after they leave home and don't have the benefit of parents or other long-time drivers to guide them. Plus they may be distracted by all of the stress of living on their own for the first time. Are there any studies on the capabilities of those who learn to drive later? Will people learning to drive later lead to insurance rate increases for older groups as those groups are increasingly comprised of less experienced drivers? It would be interesting to know.
I'd prefer teens learn to drive young while around those more equipped to guide their behaviors. But I would also love to see them choose to ride a bike when at all possible!
I think there are some definite benefits to having teenagers driving at a later age. According to an article in the Post a while back, Brain Immaturity Could Explain Teen Crash Rate: "A National Institutes of Health study suggests that the region of the brain that inhibits risky behavior is not fully formed until age 25, a finding with implications for a host of policies, including the nation's driving laws."

I think the best solution is to teach children how to drive bicycles at a very early age. By doing so, children learn that there is more than one way to get around other than being driven in a car. They also learn traffic laws; good bicycle education involves understanding and applying traffic laws to riding in the road.

Why wait until children become rebellious teens who engage in risky behavior before teaching them the rules of the road. Is it any wonder that you see poor bicycle driving behavior given that most people in the U.S. receive NO bicycle education. Even many adults don't know some basic rules for riding in the road. We'll be teaching some courses this spring and similar courses should be available as part of a child's basic education.
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