Driving has long been a huge part of high school culture. Getting a license introduces a new sense of freedom and responsibility for teens, but with California’s current policies, many young adults have been waiting to learn how to drive.
“There has been a tremendous decrease in teen licensing,” said Erika Vieyra, manager of Bay Area Driving School. “Some teens have told me that they don’t think that they need a license to get around. Others say that they don’t want to pay the extra expense of insurance.”
California’s graduated driver’s licensing (GDL) program was adopted in 1998, with the intention of protecting young drivers. The program requires that minors complete a written test, 30 hours of driver’s education, six hours of in-car training, 50 hours of practice, and a DMV test after six months of holding a permit. These drivers are then subjected to restrictions and higher insurance rates.
Many view these rules as radical and unnecessary, but the GDL has made a significant difference in the safety of 16- and 17- year old drivers. According to data released by the Centers Of Disease Control and Prevention, accidents in this age group have dropped 36 percent and fatal accidents have dropped 31 percent.
“I think it’s good to start early, to have practice and gain experience before going on to university,” said sophomore Stephanie Zeng.
But with the high demands of high school, many teens cannot find the time to go through the process. They often wait until they turn 18 to bypass driver’s education, and more easily obtain a license. The Journal of American Medical Association reports that only about 13 percent of 16-year olds have gone through the proper training.
“I’m not planning on starting in high school, because I don’t feel like I would be ready,” said freshman Shirley Phuong.
Yet, missing out on training proves to be extremely dangerous to older drivers. Between 1988 and 2007, there was a 12 percent increase in accidents involving 18- and 19- year old drivers.
“Students who skip DE are missing out on learning the basics before getting behind-the-wheel. I feel that all new drivers will benefit from taking a driver’s education course before getting a learner’s permit,” said Vieyra.
State lawmakers continue to address this problem, proposing new regulations that would increase the restrictions on young drivers. Among them, Assemblyman Jim Frazier’ bill, AB1113, calls for adjustments in teen drivers’ curfews, while the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommends increasing the age requirement for GDL.
“It has been argued that driving is one of the most important skills that a person can possess in his or her lifetime,” Vieyra said. “With excellent driver education and driver training, teens will be better prepared for the responsibilities of having a driving license.”