The next sound you hear will NOT be an incipient earthquake, a convention of wounded elephants, or a replay of World War II.
It will be the sound of thousands of 16-year-olds collectively screaming in mortal agony as I suggest that perhaps it would be a good idea to make high school graduation a requisite for a driver's license.There, I've said it.
I'd like to take credit for the idea, but it came to me via W. Bryan Laker, a private educator. He, in turn, says it's a thought that's been around for awhile and seems to have the support of many parents, educators, and legislators.
The support, however, tends to weaken at the juncture where someone has to tell thousands of 16-year-olds that a long-held "right" is about to be taken away from them. (not to mention the kids on down the line who sit on pillows to drive the family car up and down the driveway in eager anticipation of 16th birthdays).
Laker thinks The Car - particularly The Car in the hands of 16- to 18-year-olds - contributes to many costly social problems, including dropping out of school prematurely, parent/child stress, alcohol and drug abuse and sexual promiscuity.
The all-consuming desire for The Car is impetus for many young men to leave school prematurely, especially if mobility will help them escape problems at home or in society. Too often, they drive right into a new set of problems and sometimes they take others on a downhill course with them.
Cars are, in fact, expensive commmodities. If Mom and Pop are too poor to provide a vehicle, the youth burning with car fever takes a job to keep The Car in petrol, an expensive sacrifice of education that comes home to roost in later years.
Since 1979, 217 young Utahns 15 to 17 were listed as drivers in fatal accidents. Alcohol was involved in a significant percentage of those accidents. Adult drivers feel the sting as they pay higher insurance premiums to subsidize the expenses of dealing with adolescent accidents. And any parent who has seen teenagers through their first years of driving has shuddered at their insurance costs.
The costs of parking lots have contributed in a big way to the expense of modern high schools and to the headaches of school administrators. Law enforcement officers who should be out protecting society at large often spend their time arbitrating parking lot incidents. At Brighton High School, the Jordan District has banned sophomore drivers because of lack of space in the parking lot. It has caused considerable outcry among those affected.
Many adolescent drivers are responsible and safe drivers. I've been fortunate to have seen 10 of my own children become licensed without ever having had an accident or serious driving incident.
Unfortunately, it is frequently the kids with problems who develop the greater passions for vehicles. A car becomes a barroom (or bedroom) on wheels, abets an adolescent in a rebellious split with home, and speeds him into trouble.
In recent years, several Utah legislators have proposed that mandatory school attendance age be dropped from 18 to 16 - because "that's when the problems start."
That's approaching the problem backwards, Laker says. Remove The Car from the equation and a signficant proportion of the problems would disappear.
Driving is not a right, although in our mobile society that fact has been lost in the free-wheeling shuffle.
It is a privilege that should require more than a driver training course (which is an expensive lost cause for many young men who have been covertly driving for months) and the few bucks it takes to purchase a license.
Making high school graduation - or equivalent performance in an alternative education program - a requirement for obtaining a driving license makes sense.
It would give young people an added incentive to get a diploma. It could even become incentive to get a diploma early by completing high school courses ahead of schedule - a desirable end that Utah's Legislature is actively pursuing.
The chances of changing a deeply entrenched custom are, admittedly, not good.
A national stance on the subject of teenage drivers would be the best resolution, but it certainly is a thought worth mulling at the state level, too.