Debate Grows Over Raising Driving Age

The Supreme Court recently issued a controversial ruling about the maturity of 16-year-olds. The high court decided that criminals that age are too young to face the death penalty.

There's now a related debate underway about the driving age. The discussion involves whether 16-year-olds are mature enough to drive a car.

Statistics show 16-year-old drivers are the highest accident risk of any age group. As you would imagine, there are strong feelings about raising the driver's license age, especially among teenagers.

"At sixteen, you start doing a lot of things, and you need a license. You need a car," said 18-year-old Aaron Brewer, a student at Gulfport High.

Not surprisingly, Gulfport High teens we talked with say 16-year-olds are mature enough to drive.

"Because it's an age where you're maturing and stuff. And they should actually give you a chance to show yourself. Because you're older now," said Camay Smith.

But how old must you be to become responsible behind the wheel? The driver's license has become an important rite of passage for young people.

Jessica Kirk says there are differing maturity levels among 16-year-olds.

"I say not a lot of them are mature enough. But those that are shouldn't be punished," she reasoned.

Recent studies have suggested a 16-year-old's brain isn't developed enough to handle the decision making required to drive a car safely.

"I got a fast car. So, every now and then I'd speed a little bit. But I always kept it under control. Yeah, it's a new experience, so you're going to take it a little far sometimes. But I think I was mature enough. I haven't had any accidents or anything," said Brewer.

Some rather grim statistics support the idea of raising the driving age. For instance, 16-year-old drivers are involved in fatal accidents at a rate nearly five times that of drivers over age 20. Statistics also show that twenty percent of 16-year-old drivers, or one in five, will have an accident their first year behind the wheel.

A longtime driver's instruction teacher says there are arguments both ways.

"Their reflexes and reaction time is so much better than older. However the experienced driving allows older people to see, you know more experienced drivers, to see situations before they actually come up," said instructor Sid Wilkinson.

Surveys show increasing support for raising the driving age. A recent USA-Today Gallop poll found nearly two thirds of Americans say 16-years-old is too young to have a drivers license.