Should teens jump behind the wheel as soon as they turn 16?

Momster recently tweeted an MSN Money article exploring the financial merits of delaying teen driving, including saving money on driver’s ed classes, cars, gas and insurance. But if you’ve ever tried to teach a kid to drive, I’m sure you can vouch for other good reasons teens should wait until they’re older to become licensed.

I got my learner’s permit at age 15. The moment I got behind the wheel with my mom, everything I did was wrong in her eyes. Did you check the mirror? Is your foot on the brake? What are you doing? The car lurched, jerking under the weight of the mother-daughter arguments that ensued (and I’m sure you know how feisty teens can get). There was no way I wanted to do 50 hours of practice with her, as mandated by those pesky Illinois Graduated Driver Licensing laws.

So even though I finished my driver’s ed classes, I decided to avoid the licensing stage until I was 18, past the age of GDL laws. Soon, though, I left for college without getting my license—and more than five years after my first permit, I’ve been fine as a non-driver. But I also found that there are drawbacks to consider that may outweigh the money, time and stress you’ll save. Straight from a delayed driver and recent ex-teenager, here are a few of them:

Location

I’m lucky enough to live and attend school near Chicago, where public transit is easily accessible and the bike paths have no challenging hills. I’ve enjoyed benefits ranging from increased physical fitness to an intimate familiarity with Chicago’s rail lines. I can get around pretty easily most of the time—but those who live elsewhere may not be so lucky. Especially in the summer, teens need a way to get to their jobs and other activities that foster independence, and sometimes it’s just too far to bike.  

The Friend Factor

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It is not fun to be the only one of your friends without the freedom that comes with a car. You’re stuck relying on other friends—or the ever-embarrassing mom or dad—for rides. (And do you really want to be stuck driving your kids around?) It’s worked out for me because I have great friends (ahem, pushovers—sorry guys!), but you may not want your child hitching a ride with inexperienced drivers. Accidents happen when friends are in the car, and they happen more than ever during summer vacation.

Safety

The MSN article pointed out that delaying driving removes the safety of graduated driver licensing, since most states’ GDL laws are meant for those under age 18. These laws, which cover everything from night driving to passenger distractions, have reduced the number of fatal crashes by as much as 40 percent. In my opinion, a 16-year-old who does not have the maturity to follow these laws is not old enough to drive. However, as a teen, no one I know followed them: Many teens, like me, try to skirt the restrictions by waiting until 18. My friends were less law-abiding; none drove the full 50 “practice” hours before getting licensed at 16 or waited the required months before driving other teens around. GDL can be a boon or a bother, so make sure your teen understands safety comes first before handing over the car keys.  

After too many years of depending on unreliable Chicago transit and even less reliable teenage friends (sorry again, guys) to chauffeur me around, I will finally be getting my first car—a suburban necessity as I move into my first apartment, purchase my first furniture and do my first grocery shopping. I’ll be getting behind the wheel of my mom’s car with a renewed learner’s permit and a lot less angst.

Or maybe I’ll just pay for a driving instructor.

What do you think? After weighing the pros and cons, will your teen be driving at 16—and is it even your choice?

Corinne Chin

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