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Perplexed, Vexed by Teen Driving

By Ron Shaffer
Thursday, January 6, 2005; Page PW01

It's clear what is on most readers' minds this new year: teen deaths on the road, better driver's education and what role parents should play in driver's education.

I've advocated that parents become the primary teachers, with extensive practice on our roads. I've also advocated raising the minimum age to get a license to 17, a proposal that a number of readers don't like.

Here is a sample of recent mail on the subject:

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

While I agree that driver's education practices need to be revamped across the board, I disagree with increasing the minimum age for a learner's permit or license.

The problem is that there are only so many months that teens are driving and in high school, and then our kids are off to college or otherwise moving away from parental supervision.

Under current laws, most young folks first drive solo during their junior and senior years of high school. This is a critical period in which they are driving alone but are still under the supervision of their parents.

If we increase the minimum driving age, this reduces the period of solo driving with parental supervision. While we all worry when our teens are driving anywhere, it is critical that they have this early experience during the high school years when they are driving locally.

I do think that there should be driver's ed training for parents as well as students -- perhaps one or more Saturday class. Also, simulators or computerized training should be used to teach drivers how to avoid common accidents and what to do in emergencies.

Bob Hugman


I disagree with your first point. Sixteen-year-old drivers in their junior and senior years of high school are generally not driving under the supervision of their parents. That's the whole point of getting a license at 16 -- to get away from the parents.

To raise the minimum age to 17 or 18 means that the young would-be drivers would have no choice but to drive with their parents. Hence, another year or two of training.

I like your idea of a driver's ed class for parents.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

After reading your column and chats, I realize you are a proponent of raising the driving age to 17 or 18. I think you are completely off base with this.

Many 16-year-olds in today's world need to be able to drive. (Teenagers, please note: I am not saying they need their own cars, SUVs or fancy cars.)

Unless the world has changed since I was 16, many teenagers participate in extracurricular activities and help parents by performing errands. If you are a proponent of raising the minimum age because of the accident risk, I think you should channel your energies to instituting a maximum driving age for older drivers.

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