Looking at the legal minimum driving age in different countries across the world, one wonders if there is any ideal minimum age for driving on the roads. This issue has been under active debate for quite some time, yet there are as convincing arguments for increasing the driving age as there are for decreasing it, with the result that different countries have come to adopt different standards on this issue depending on what factors have been considered most important in fixing an ideal driving age.
The argument in favour of decreasing the driving age basically relies on the changing social realities of the modern day families where children learn to be quite responsible at a very young age because of both their parents working and the compulsion to stay alone at home for a large part of the day on a routine basis, and thus making a case for lowering the driving age for these responsible group of adolescents. The principal argument that opposes such moves and in fact pleads for increasing the driving age instead rests on various studies linking higher road accidents to younger drivers driving at super fast speeds on roads and their irresponsible attitude to stick to the driving rules and norms, thus putting not only their own life at stake but also others driving on the roads.
With convincing arguments both in favour and against increasing the driving age, it is not surprising that different countries have been following different rules. While 18 years is the most common driving age in most countries, there are cases where the age is both higher and lower than this. Usually the driving age, once adopted is uniform for a country, but United States and Australia present interesting scenarios of having different driving ages for people residing in different states or regions. Thus, whereas the driving age in South Australia is 16 years, it is 18 in Victoria with all other states fixing it at 17. In spite of these differences, most countries follow some kind of a graduated system wherein a teenager is given a learner’s permit and asked to attend driver education classes before he or she can take the written and driving test to qualify for a driving license. Some countries also put a requirement of having a minimum number of driving practice hours with someone holding a driving license sitting alongside. The legal age is higher in most countries when it comes to driving commercial vehicles or high-power vehicles.
Driving on roads requires utmost concentration and at times even a moment’s distraction could be extremely dangerous leading to fatal accidents. The legal driving age in most countries across the globe is 18 years with only a few exceptions, where the driving age is 16 or even lower, such as 15 in New Zealand and 14 in Ethiopia. As far as Australia is concerned, the minimum driving age varies from 16 to 18 years in different states. There have been some studies where it has been shown that younger people are involved in more road accidents than their elder counterparts, leading to a hot debate in many circles whether the age limit for driving should be increased to bring down the number of fatal accidents taking place on roads in Australia.
There is indeed a merit in the argument that young drivers drive too fast, and are physically and emotionally ill-equipped to maintain the level of alertness required for driving at such high speeds. They pose a threat to not only their own lives but also to others driving on roads. There is a growing feeling among many people that they should be removed from roads altogether to help make the roads safer for driving and reducing serious road fatalities.
I feel it is not just the age that results in higher accident rates on Australian roads. A NSW study shows that young people are involved in much more fatal crashes during late night and early morning, especially on weekends. This may be true, but this also points to the real cause of the higher accident rates among teenagers. Younger people returning from party under the influence of alcohol could be the real culprit. So, what is required is an increased drive to discourage people under the influence of alcohol. The chances of accidents indeed increase manifold if the person driving has consumed alcohol, whether young or old. It is only that elder people are likely to be more careful about the quantity they should consume if they have to drive back home compared to teenagers. What is more important, therefore, for bringing down the accident rates is to enforce increased drive for random breath testing on roads than bring down the driving age. If people are made to understand that driving under influence is most likely to be caught by police, then it can act as a deterrent as a long-term measure.