BY JESSICA WEAVER
16-year-old Eric Wilcox had his whole life planned out. He was so excited for senior year, but before he got there, the Michigan teen experienced a tragic event that permanently shattered his and many other lives. Eric and his friend were driving on their way to another friend’s house when he tried passing a car. While in the process of downshifting his Mustang, the young teen spun out of control across four lanes of traffic and was subsequently hit by an oncoming car. Eric was ejected out of the car, while his friend was trapped in the seatbelt. Both were rushed to the hospital immediately. While his friend is currently at the Craig Institute in Colorado undergoing rehabilitation for devastating spinal injuries, Eric’s young life was cut short. Incidents like this one are almost a daily occurrence in the United States. Eric Wilcox wasn’t under the influence – he was simply a teenager, a child. We must step up as a nation to prevent young lives from being lost by outlawing children from being put behind the wheel.
Around 6,000 teenage drivers are killed in car accidents each year. Driving is a privilege, as well as a responsibility, that teenagers are not prepared for. At 16, most teens aren’t as responsible as they should be and giving them the keys to a car could potentially be deadly. If laws were instituted to change the driving age to 18, many lives would be saved. After all, 18 is the age in which children are legally deemed adults and as such, can handle the responsibility of receiving a driver’s license.
All 50 states prohibit 16-year-olds from drinking alcohol, buying cigarettes, and purchasing handguns. Yet somehow, most states are willing to put them in charge of a car. Teens don’t realize how dangerous driving can be; they believe nothing could ever happen to them. In reality, facts show that driving is the number one killer of teens. At 16 or 17, you may feel invincible, but with a lack of driving experience and distractions such as cell phones, music, food, and even friends, driving can be a dangerous activity. The problem is that teens don’t see certain actions as a life threatening risk. In a recent study, only 28 percent said using a cell phone is a risk while driving, ten percent said the same about having other teens in the car, and only half cited speeding or not wearing a seat belt. This belief in their own immortality is why most teen drivers have death rates four times that of drivers 25 to 29 years of age.
Between 1995 and 2004, there were 30,917 fatalities in car accidents that involved 15-to-17-year-old drivers, according to the Foundation for Traffic Safety. About a third of those deaths were the teen drivers themselves. The rest were pedestrians, passengers, and people in cars that teenage drivers struck. Family, fellow peers, and the community as a whole should not have to worry about the risk that teenage drivers create.
Most teens don’t think of the consequences that their actions have on others. Whether it’s drinking and driving, speeding, or even just not paying attention, teens not only put their life at risk but they also take the chance of hurting other people.
Heading home from practice, Jonathan Chapman, a 16-year-old high school basketball player from La Plata, Maryland, was reportedly speeding when his car rammed into an SUV. He and three friends, ages 14 to 16, were killed. His irresponsible driving is an example of how one teen’s mistake can devastate the lives of others. Changing the driving age not only lowers the risk of young teens getting in accidents and harming themselves but it would also protect others, making the road a less hazardous place.
The cause for the high death rates from teenage drivers come from a mix of irresponsibility and inexperience. If teens were able to receive their learners permit at 16 and be required to have two years of practice with adult supervision, they would have more time to get used to driving. In many countries such as Canada, Russia, China, and Japan, the minimum driving age is 18. Why is the United States, a world-power, so far behind on this life saving trend? As it is, only eight states have a law setting the minimum age for a learners permit at 16 and only one state has the minimum age for receiving a license at 18. If all states made similar laws, the U.S would quickly see the number of teen deaths from car accidents drop.
16-year-olds are simply not aware of their responsibility as young drivers. Although the easiest thing to do may be to let 16-year-olds drive, it is not the safest. With teen driving fatalities as high as they are, states should not even have to take time to think about this topic. It’s evident that the driving age must be raised, the devastating statistics and news stories we hear about everyday are proof. Changing the driving age to 18 would save thousands of innocent lives each year.