Driving: Not All It’s Cracked Up To Be

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I am one of those teens in the minority with my extremely unpopular opinion: driving isn’t that great. This is the moment that every 13 year-old dreams of. When they’re finally old enough to get their permit and then their licence. Driving is a rite of passage, a step towards becoming an adult, and it makes many teens feel more independent. But I am convinced I’ve been misled and that driving is a mundane task with excessive sparkle adorning it.

“Why would I ever want to drive?” I asked myself while sitting in Driver’s Ed. I know. It was definitely too late to be having second thoughts about driving while in the thick of the Driver’s Ed curriculum. To give you some background, I have a near ten-year age gap between myself and my two older siblings. Since I was young, I’ve heard my older siblings go on and on about how driving is this magical thing that will give you instant gratification and freedom. Now that I’m older, I’ve realized it really is too good to be true. Sitting through hours of lectures, completing 50 hours of supervised driving, having a curfew, memorizing so many rules, and waiting till I turn 16 to get my license are several reasons why driving has lost its oh-so coveted shine.

Driving is a life skill, which is why I and many others are learning to do it in the first place. One day, I’m going to need to drive myself to work or to pick someone up. Driving is so much more liberating when there’s a need for it as an independent adult. It’s not this big venture that suddenly makes teenagers independent. I know some will call me pessimistic and argue that driving gives teenagers a sense of freedom, but since most teens get their licenses as minors, they will have restrictions until legal adulthood. According to Illinois Legal Aid Online, under most circumstances, drivers under eighteen cannot drive from 10 PM – 6 AM Sunday – Thursday and 11 PM – 6 AM Friday – Saturday unless supervised by an adult. This seems more like a false sense of freedom than anything else.

The statistics for vehicular crashes among teen drivers are also alarmingly high. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention states that “motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for U.S teens.” Despite the fact that most people receive their licenses in their late teens, that doesn’t eliminate the risks associated with reckless driving. Teenagers are on the cusp of full-fledged adulthood, but they are also notorious for making impulsive decisions, which comes down to a physiological level. National Public Radio had neuroscientist Dr. Sandra Aamodt speak on how brain maturity correlates with teenage drivers and their decision making. Aamodt stated that research shows clearly that “the brain is not fully finished developing until about age 25,” and that despite eighteen year olds being considered legal adults, “they are only about halfway through [the process of puberty].” Most notably, Aamodt mentioned that “[teengers’] prefrontal cortex is not yet fully developed. That’s the part of the brain that helps you to inhibit impulses and to plan and organize your behavior to reach a goal.” Lack of safety is a looming threat; it doesn’t matter how skilled a driver you are. If a reckless teen is racing the traffic light to cross an intersection, you and your passengers will suffer the consequences. Fault will be of little consequence.

Additionally, insurance rates for teen drivers are absurdly high. Michelle Megna for CarInsurance.com reported that adding a sixteen year-old to an insurance policy will “increase your rates by, on average, 140%, or $2,000 annually.” This comes down to teenagers statistically having more accidents and being more reckless behind the wheel. Car insurance is mandatory, and driving shouldn’t be something that breaks the bank. 

I recognize that not every situation is the same; driving is an important skill for teens without access to adults who can drive them places. I am not trying to vilify others’ struggle to acquire reliable transportation, but it’s important not to ignore that there will be restrictions for teens who are driving. 

Really, what is so fun about this? In a way, I’m upset because I feel as though I’m missing out on this experience many teens share. This is an exciting and memorable time for so many teenagers, and I can’t help but feel like I’m just going through the motions because driving feels so uninteresting and dreary. At the end of the day, driving is just turning a wheel, navigating safely, pushing levers, and trying not to hurt yourself and others. That’s all. That’s it. The glamour surrounding the basic task of driving is overstated, and it sets unrealistic expectations for young teens