Is 16 too young to drive?

A few days ago there was a terrible crash on my street, just yards from my house.  The local CBS affiliate covered the story.   They called it the “Flag Challenge Crash” named after a dangerous driving game created by teenagers in our area.  

Here is how it works. Teen drivers see how fast they can accelerate along a six block residential stretch of Flag Avenue where the speed limit is 30 miles an hour.  The 16-year-old driver involved in the crash told police he may have gotten up to 60 miles an hour before slamming into a couple leaving the golf club along Flag Avenue. Word on our block is the young driver hit 80 miles an hour and others have come close to 100 miles an hour.   There were three 16-year-old passengers in his car at the time. It’s amazing they all survived when you look at the accident scene. Our neighbor Tom Witta, was one of the first on the scene and took these photos.

The driver is now facing charges. His few seconds of bad judgement are going to leave a lasting mark on many lives including his own.

But teenagers are prone to making bad choices, right? I am sure I made a few.  Neuroscientists say it’s because the teenage brain is not fully developed.  Here’s a link to a story from National Public Radio on the teenage brain.  

So why are we letting kids drive at 16 ? What is the rush to get kids behind the wheel? My 15-year-old nephew is in driver’s ed right now. And the idea of my 13-year-old starting this process in just two years scares the ?#*%! out of me.

For some reason many teens think they are invincible. Or they just don’t think about the consequences. How else would you dream up a game like this or even participate in it?  There were obviously other drivers and passengers who went along with it.  Does flirting with danger make you cool? It worries me that not one of the 4 teens in that car said “Hey, I don’t feel comfortable with this, let me out!”  I would love to know the dialogue that took place right before the driver hit the gas pedal.

Sure, some might say this is just an isolated incident, but the Minnesota Department of Transportation says traffic crashes are the leading killer of Minnesota teens.  And I am sure these accidents aren’t caused by reckless driving alone.  A majority of teens are responsible drivers, just inexperienced.

So what can we do to better protect and educate our young driving population?  In 2008, Minnesota enacted tighter restrictions on teen driving.

  • For the first 6 months you have your license, no driving between Midnight and 5am unless you are accompanied by a licensed driver age 25 or older.  Or you are driving between home and place of employment; driving to/from home and a school event for which the school has not provided transportation; driving for employment purposes such as a delivery job.
  • For the first six-months of licensure: Only one passenger under the age of 20 is permitted, unless accompanied by a parent or guardian.
  • For the second six-months of licensure: No more than three passengers under the age of 20 are permitted, unless accompanied by a parent or guardian. The only exception is if the passengers under 20 are immediate family members.

Well, maybe these new rules aren’t enough.

Maybe 16 year olds should have to present proof of employment and possible scheduled hours to drive after 10pm and before 5am.

Maybe, Minnesota should join California and make newly licensed drivers wait 12 months before allowing them to take more than 1 passenger under 20 years old. (Unless they are immediate family members)

Maybe teens should have to wait until they’re 17 to get a driver’s license.  They could still get permits at 15 which would give them more experience behind the wheel before getting licensed?

What do you think? Do you have teen drivers at home? What have your experiences been? Is 16 too young to drive?