Most teens who are not yet legal drivers anxiously await the day when they can finally experience the freedom and independence that comes with having their driver’s license. Unfortunately for those of us who still rely on our parents to chauffeur us around everywhere, the wait for that monumental day seems never-ending.
The age when a kid can take their first real step towards being an adult by becoming a licensed driver varies from state to state. According to the most recent state driving laws, Connecticut, Kentucky, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and yes, our very own home state, Maryland have the strictest regulations for when teens can get their licenses. Connecticut, Kentucky, Massachusetts, and Maryland all have the legal driving age at 16 and a half years old. New Jersey’s law is that a teen must be no younger than 18 years old in order to obtain a driver’s license. On the other end of the spectrum are states such as Wyoming, South Dakota, South Carolina, New Mexico, Idaho, and Hawaii, whose driving laws allow kids as young as 14 or 15 to be on the roads by themselves. In addition, states place different laws on young drivers as to when they are allowed to drive friends and what times of the night they can drive. Maryland’s law on this is that once a new driver has had their license for five months, they can drive friends around. But before that, their passengers must be limited to immediate family. In addition, Maryland teens must wait 18 months after they have their licenses to be able to drive between the hours of midnight and five a.m.
As a teen, I think I speak for most of my peers when I say that I cannot seem to wrap my head around why driving ages are different for different states. If I lived in South Carolina I would have had my license for over two years. But if I lived in New Jersey, I wouldn’t get it until two years from now. Why is a Wyoming resident who is a year and half younger than me able to drive before I am? And how is it logical that a teen the same age as me in Idaho has been allowed to drive a carful of their friends for a year and three months, while I won’t be able to legally experience that luxury for eight more months?
Similar to the inconsistency of state driver’s laws, the increasing driving age in Maryland is also incomprehensible. In 2005, the driving age rose from 16 and 1 month to 16 and 3 months. Then in 2009, it rose from 16 and 3 months to 16 and 6 months. Naturally, Maryland lawmakers have discussed the idea of raising the driving age even more. But why? Why are teens today incapable of doing what kids our same age three years ago could do with ease?
Of course, some adults snicker and say, “The dangers, of course!” Yes, these so called “dangers” of teen drivers are why we are incompetent, and therefore, unfit to be behind the wheel. We get more distracted than adults, we can’t pay attention as well as adults can, we aren’t as responsible as adults are. And maybe all of these things are true, based on facts and statistics. But I know I’m not the only one who feels as though a double standard exists here. In every aspect of our lives, we are told to practice and learn focus, hard work, and responsibility. And our abilities to do these things allow us to be able to go to school everyday, sit through seven classes, learn, take tests, turn in work, attend sports practices, club meetings, or daily shifts at our jobs, do homework, and then get ready for the next day. Doesn’t this schedule require extreme amounts of attention and responsibility? We have to remember our books, papers, sports equipment, change of clothes, homework, and many other things before we even get to school. Then, we have to pay attention for extended amounts of time while we learn seven or more subjects and have to keep up with all of them. And adults say, yes of course we as teens can do all of this. We can manage doing all of this because we are young adults and we have to become accustom to living in the real world. But, no we cannot drive by ourselves because even though it is imperative that we have enough concentration and accountability to get through our daily lives, we simply don’t have enough to operate a car.
I’m aware that the traffic accident rates are higher among teens aged 16 through 19 than any other age group, due to what the experts indicate is teens’ “lack of skill, low risk perception, and poor hazard detection.” But isn’t that to be expected? It is the equivalent of being fresh out of college, new to the workforce, getting a job, and messing up a few times. Of course a young and inexperienced employee is bound to make a few mistakes right away, just as a new driver is. But what must also be taken into account is that young employees, just like young drivers, can often be more attentive and cautious for fear of messing up so early in their real or driving careers. In both scenarios, the young worker or driver is eager to learn and excited to gain as much experience as possible.
I have had my learner’s instructional permit for over six months now. With a learner’s permit, I can only drive when a licensed driver over the age of 21 who has had their license for over three years accompanies me in the passenger seat. I believe that six months has served as a sufficient amount of time to learn and practice the driving skills needed to be a licensed driver. When a parent or adult sits next to me as I drive, they don’t have to give me direction or instruction as to where to go or what to do. Obviously, some teens require longer periods of time to learn something than others do. But, I think we can all agree that the nine months that Maryland requires is a lengthy time period for a learner’s permit to turn into a driver’s license.
If I have learned and practiced my driving skills, adequately proven my ability to be responsible, and sufficiently shown focus and willingness to learn, then why shouldn’t I be able to drive? What’s stopping me from just getting behind the wheel and driving to school rather than taking the bus? Who’s to say I can’t drive to my friend’s house instead of waiting for my mom to get home from work so she can take me? What’s holding me back from driving to lacrosse practice rather than arranging a carpool with other players and parents? Why can’t I roll the windows down, turn up the radio, and let my hair blow in the wind as I drive off into the land of the independent and liberated teenagers? Oh yeah, the law.