My case for raising the driving age

Your phone rings and you answer. On the other end is a Georgia State patrolman with a message that your teenage son or daughter has been involved in an auto accident. Instantly your world turns upside down, your heart begins to race, your mind speeds through a series of horrible scenarios, and as you struggle to keep your composure, you manage to ask the officer — are they okay? The officer takes a breath and cautiously responds – you need to get to the hospital, and gives you the address and adds, please drive safely.

While many of us hold tightly to a false sense of security that this is not an occurrence that we are likely to experience, unfortunately this is a reality for families everyday. On average between 6 and 13 teenagers die from motor vehicle accidents everyday. Additionally, another 650 to 1,100 teenagers visit emergency rooms everyday with injuries sustained from motor vehicle accidents. In both cases, regardless of details reported in police reports — the proximate cause of injuries and deaths in nearly every accident involving teenagers is the inexperience of teenage drivers. Drivers between 16 and 19 years of age are 3 times more likely than drivers 20 years or older, to be involved in a fatal accident.

The leading contributing factors to teenage motor vehicle accidents are teenage drivers’ inexperience and their underdeveloped decision making skills. When driving, the brain’s frontal lobe plays an enormous role, especially the dorsal lateral prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for processing critical data for making rational decisions. This is the part of the brain that tells experienced, mature drivers not to dart across three lanes to make an exit. This is the region of the brain that tells mature and experienced drivers to slow down before taking a deep curve. It tells mature and experienced drivers that turning off your headlights while driving at night is not cool, it’s dangerous and potentially life-threatening. This part of the brain does not fully mature until the age of 20 at the earliest and, according to some professionals, maybe as late as 25 years of age. And this does not contemplate the added impact of mobile technology, texting and social media that today’s young drivers have to contend with.

House Bill 708 proposes to increase the age for obtaining a learner’s permit to 17 years of age. Furthermore, the age for obtaining drivers license will be raised from 17 years old to 18 years old. Additionally, this bill will create opportunities for students to take state-funded drivers education as an elective in public schools.

House Bill 961 will create a constitutional amendment to Georgia’s Constitution dedicating existing fees and assessments to Georgia trauma centers and driver education training courses in public schools. As I speak with families about this issue there are two dominant recurring themes: we need driver’s education back in the schools; and, $400 for a private driver education course is too expensive.

House Bill 961 will ensure that all students have access to driver’s education, regardless of their household income.

These two pieces of legislation are needed to give young drivers more time to mature and more hours of driver education training before they get behind steering wheels. If passed, the new laws will aggravate some teenagers because they will have wait an additional few months to get the keys to the family vehicle. Likewise, I am sure some parents will be frustrated because they will have to chauffeur their teenagers for a few additional months.

I know there will be some pushback. However, I believe safety should be our first priority. At the end of the day, the new laws will save lives. As far as I am concerned, that alone is worth the wait. You can help by contacting your representative and senator and asking them to support these bills and save the lives of our teenagers.