Why Do Kids Drive Badly? They're Kids!

| February 1, 2005 | Reply

This seems like a bit of science discovering the obvious.

By most physical measures, teenagers should be the world’s best drivers. Their muscles are supple, their reflexes quick, their senses at a lifetime peak. Yet car crashes kill more of them than any other cause — a problem, some researchers believe, that is rooted in the adolescent brain.

Yep, and when I was young, adults called it “immaturity”.

A National Institutes of Health study suggests that the region of the brain that inhibits risky behavior is not fully formed until age 25, a finding with implications for a host of policies, including the nation’s driving laws.

That would surprise me is any policies changed because of this finding. We knew this years ago. Heck, insurance companies know it now – that’s why young males pay sky-high insurance rates until they hit the age of 25. That we find that maybe it has to do with the physiology of the brain is certainly interesting, but not a huge shock.

While society and tradition have placed the point of intellectual maturity, the “age of reason,” years earlier, the study — an international effort led by NIH’s Institute of Mental Health and UCLA’s Laboratory of Neuro Imaging — shows it comes at about age 25.

I’d be careful about changing that “age of reason” now – because the study’s not talking about that. The reporter is mixing up two distinct things. The Age of Reason is when we have decided, though observational experiences and our own societal requirements, a human being is capable of bearing legal responsibility for his actions. Reaching that age does not automatically embue a person with the ability to render flawless judgements. That’s not what the study is talking about. The study is talking about the point at which most adults “mature” – reach a point where they’re not so inclined to engage in risky behavior and such.

The article concentrates on traffic accidents and the relatively high number of fatalities that occur among young people.

Really, though, the answer isn’t in new laws. It’s in – say it with me everyone – parents! Parents indulge their kids by getting them the fastest and smallest little sports car, tricking it out with all the latest gewgaws and then letting their kids drive around with five or six other kids int he car, each of them going a mile a minute on their cell phones to each other and all their other friends. No wonder these kids are getting into serious accidents. I couldn’t drive with that many distractions going on and I sure as hell couldn’t have done it when I was 18 either.

Then again, when I was 18, I was driving an old Chevy Monza with a Chevy Vega engine in it. It might have gotten up to 70 MPH going downhill, with a tailwind, but only if I opened the door and kick-pedaled a little. I had an AM/FM radio with the same stock speakers in the dashboard. No bass kicker in the trunk, no high-end CD/DVD player. I had what I had and it got me where I needed to go when I needed to get there.

Who was I to complain? I paid the insurance on the car, which was high enough, but that’s all I paid.

Why did my parents make me suffer in this hooptie-driven (hah!) misery? Well, first, because they couldn’t afford a brand-new car for me. But the real reason was that, even if they could have bought me a new car, they wouldn’t have because they new that I wasn’t ready to handle the responsibility. They knew that when I wanted a new car, I’d work hard and save a few bucks and find a good deal and get the car I wanted. And they knew that when that happened, I’d take care of the car, because it was mine.

Perhaps we’d have fewer problems if our parents gave their kids fewer opportunities to be that publicly and dangerously irresponsible. Baby steps, right?

Still, misgivings aside, the study would be interesting, if for no other reason than to give the “nature vs. nurture” argument another little kick in the pants. As we delve deeper into what makes our brains tick we find that nature plays a bigger part than perhaps we thought.

Category: The Good Old US of A

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