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Stereotype doesn’t justify driving age raise

So, Dr Robert Isler says that a fifteen-year-old brain is incapable of being behind the steering wheel: the frontal lobes aren’t fully developed. In short, we’ve scientifically proven a stereotype.

At least, “scientific” according to one Herald correspondant. It’s not really scientific at all, it’s just the opinion of some psychology professor, and despite the article’s clear implication that an academic opinion was all it was, she still managed to cite it as “scientific evidence”. Academics have such remarked power in this day and age.

Many believe the driving age should be raised, but the argument that a fifteen-year-old isn’t developed enough holds a fundamental flaw. The development of an adolescent is a gradual work. They do not spring into maturity in one magical second. They are always learning to exercise judgement. Who, then, is to judge when a brain is developed “enough”? According to Isler, the frontal lobes, which are responsible for judgement and self-control (among other things), does not fully develop until the age of twenty-five. So then, maybe we should hold off driving until twenty-five. No chances, right? Driving is the control of a lethal weapon that can kill, and only fully mature people should take the wheel, and blah, blah, blah? Even Isler is content to say seventeen or eighteen.

Development and maturity do not, surely, occur at the same age with everyone. Some would be capable of rational judgement at fifteen; others might be twenty and still lack the ability. A claim that all fifteen-year-olds are too childish is ludicrous. Some teenagers might take bad risks, to label all teenagers as such is both incorrect and unfair; to label them as “crazy and deadly” as another Herald correspondant did is insulting.

I don’t want to claim, by any means, that fifteen-year-old drivers would be equally capable as their middle-aged counterparts. Reaction times are slower, split-second decisions are slower, and observation skills might lack. But so does experience. Every hour spent driving is another hour of experience on the road. It’s no surprise the experience drivers are better than novices. Bad decisions are an inevitable part of learning to drive. That’s what the learning process is for. But good decisions can only come from experience, and every minute of this experience counts.

There are other ways to ensure young drivers grow up to become good ones, and ones that don’t put them cold on the road when they actually need to drive. If immaturity is really such an issue, why can’t we just increase the compulsory-supervision period for young learner drivers? I’d bet anything that a risk-taking adolescent would be less inclined to do so under the supervision of an adult. In this way, they spend their time on the road learning, not off the road waiting for the right and the need for the skill to hit them at once. Young drivers need to realise the driving is a significant responsiblity, and in their inexperience and slower reactions it is wise play it safe rather than sorry. First, though, they need to be told that.

Those who truly believe that all mid-teenagers are mayhem underestimate the capacity of a significant proportion to become, and want to become, competent, successful drivers. The current driving system ensures driving is a responsibility they are eased into, and guided along the way. Rather than dismiss teenagers as a problematic, immature, all-round useless stereotype, it is far more productive to educate and help them while they are still at home, so that when they are ready to face the world and driving becomes an everyday necessity, they know exactly what they’re doing.

Related Links

  • NZ Herald: 15 too young to drive, says brain expert
  • NZ Herald: Readers’ views: Driving age
  • NZ Herald: Government knocks down driving age review

    Dr Robert Isler is a senior lecturer in psychology at Waikato University; the correspondants of NZ Herald cited above wrote letters to the Herald in response to the question, “are fifteen-year-olds mature enough to drive?”.

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    One Comment Post a comment
    1. Ming #

      i can drive a friggin car and im 15!

      2 October 2006

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