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The Younger the Teen Driver, the Better? Not So Fast.

New numbers indicate that teens who put off obtaining their driving permits get in more accidents

Published on: February 18, 2016

With age comes wisdom, right? Not always. Turns out when it comes to teenage driving, a younger age equals better driving. I’m not sure I’d equate this to wisdom, but a recent Seattle Times article does explain that teens waiting to obtain driver’s licenses seems to be leading to more accidents.

First, more teens are delaying the coming-of-age ritual. Writer Evan Bush notes that the number of teens obtaining driving permits between the ages of 15 and 17 has fallen slightly since 2004, and “the number of 18- to 21-year-olds permitted has risen nearly 47 percent statewide during the same period.” I picture parents of younger teenagers now sleeping more soundly because their teens aren’t out there driving, and sager, older teens driving with more caution than their younger counterparts.

And I’m wrong. “[New 18- to 21-year-old drivers] are some of the riskiest drivers on the road,” said Brady Horenstein, Department of Licensing special projects manager. Bush writes that recent data shows drivers who obtained licenses at age 18 “received, on average, about three times as many citations as people who began driving at 16.”

If a teen waits until age 18 to pass the driver’s test, he doesn’t need to obtain a permit, take driving lessons, or accrue hours of practice driving. That magical 18th birthday means “they simply have to pass the knowledge and in-person driving tests,” writes Bush.

There’s no need to practice driving before licensure with an adult or a driver’s educator on a freeway, either. While 16- and 17-year olds have restrictions on their intermediate license (no passengers for six months until the age of 20 and no driving from 1 to 5 a.m.), 18-year-olds have no restrictions.

So we aren’t talking wisdom, we are talking lessons learned in driver’s education classes and while practicing driving on the roads, along with lack of driving restrictions for older teens. While writing “Road to Freedom: A Parent’s and Teen’s Guide to Driver’s Ed” for ParentMap last June, I talked with Robert Hensley, owner and instructor at 911 Driving School. He told me teens learn how to drive well pretty quickly. “They go from zero hours of driving to 50 hours of driving and that makes for a very safe driver,” said Hensley. “It’s the unusual driving situations that catch teens off guard, such as rain and night driving.”

The Seattle Times article also pointed out why teens wait to drive until they are older. The cost of driver’s education can be prohibitive (usually $500); some teens say they don’t have a car and chose mass transit over the high cost of driving. Driver’s education used to be offered at public schools, but 88 percent of our state’s drivers attended classes at private river’s education schools in 2013.

My thought after digesting this data is simple: practice does matter when it comes to learning how to drive.

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