Proposal pushes for change in driving age

CHICAGO The controversial issue could be a matter of life and death. That's because car crashes are the No. 1 cause of teenage deaths in this country, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety is funded by the auto insurance industry. But the issue they raise is one that many parents ask each other every day: is my 16-year-old ready to drive? The institute's answer is no. And they are pointing to the experience of one state which upped the driving age to 17 and reduced the number of teenage driving fatalities.

Getting a driver's license is a rite of passage for many teens; they no longer have to rely on mom and dad to drive them around. Currently, 49 out of the 50 states allow teenagers to drive at 16. But now an influential auto safety group is calling on all states to follow New Jersey's lead and raise the licensing age to 17. Not surprisingly, most teenagers and even some parents ABC7 spoke to disagree with the idea.

"It really doesn't depend on age but how much experience you have had," said Lauren McClellan, junior.

"I think it's a bad idea. We have so many working parents, and forcing kids to not be able to drive themselves to school, I think it would be more of a problem. I think 16 is a good age to get kids driving," said Caroline Guth.

More than 5,000 teenagers die in the United States every year in car crashes. Sixteen-year-olds are 10 times as likely to have an accident compared to drivers between the ages of 30 and 59.

To try and get those numbers down Illinois instituted a graduated licensing program this year. That will solve the problem, says secretary of state Jesse White, not raising the driving age.

"Right now here in Illinois, we think that based on the fact that our numbers indicate that a 50 percent downturn in the number of young drivers who lost their lives with this new program being in place. We should spend more time letting it run its course," said White.

Parents in Illinois now have to spend 50 hours behind the wheel with their teens, 10 of those during nighttime hours.

Drivers ed instructor Dan Wilkins says, in the end, it is all about the parents.

"I think 16 is a good year for students to begin learning process as far as driving. As far as getting a license, it's totally up to the parent after they've reached that age to determine whether or not their children, which is their most precious possession, if they're at the point where they can actually operate a vehicle," said Dan Wilkins, Redd Driving School.

This is only a recommendation. It is up to individual states to decide what they want their driving requirements to be, and so far, the graduated licensing program that Illinois instituted back in January is the option that most states seem to be going for.

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