Driver Knowledge Tests

Why don’t we raise the driving age?

When a young person has a fatal accident on the roads, there are often calls for the driving age to be raised from 16 to 17. Is this a good idea?

In Australia, we have a graduated driver licencing system or GDLS. It’s more onerous than many countries’ process for taking a novice driver through to the point at which they can drive a car on their own with no restrictions.

Our current process is time-consuming and moderately costly (view the cost of getting a car licence). We start with L plates (Ls), then move through two types of P plates until we are finally free to drive on our own.

Benefits of raising the driving age

Risk reduction

The adult brain doesn’t stop developing until it’s in its late 20s – teenagers are more likely to struggle with volatile emotions. Some people are still quite immature at 16, and too willing to take risks. Delaying getting behind the wheel could reduce the accident rate, given that the younger the driver, the more likely they are to crash.

Insurance cost reduction

Having fewer crashes will result in less burden on insurers which should make insurance cheaper for everyone.

Medical and social costs

Fewer crashes will lead to a reduction in medical and social costs related to those, whether they are direct medical costs or simply the lost opportunity of a life that couldn’t be lived until its natural end. The price of a fatal accident is put at over $4m.

Physical activity

In the absence of a car, many people will walk or bike, which is physical activity that many of us are sorely lacking in our lives. Setting these kinds of habits early could lead to longer-term health benefits. Only around 1% of people bike to work.

Increased patronage on public transport

If young people can’t take a car, they might take public transport. Increased demand for public transport makes it more viable and cheaper for everyone else.

It may encourage some children to stay in school

Because job opportunities are limited in some areas for those without a driver’s licence, it may encourage people to stay in school for longer.

Disadvantages of raising the driving age

No guarantee of producing better drivers

Simply delaying starting driving a year doesn’t guarantee those drivers will be any safer. In fact, there’s an argument that learning a skill at a younger age results in better proficiency, and (in general) the younger the better (although, obviously with driving there are practical limits and the aforementioned issues around maturity and understanding of risk and consequences)

Government revenue

Fewer people on the road means less tax income from fuel-related excise and vehicle registrations. While drivers aged 16 who own their own vehicle represent less than 1% of all drivers, this is still a significant number.

Disadvantages to related businesses

Fewer people on the road means fewer cars which means less need for mechanics and auxiliary services. Younger drivers tend to drive vehicles that are less reliable and therefore in need of servicing.

More pressure on parents to accommodate extra-curricular errands for their children

Children do so many activities that once they are old enough to drive themselves there, it relieves parents of a burden.

Fewer job opportunities

Many jobs require a driver’s licence. Delaying the start of the process would disadvantage those that choose to leave school at 16 or 18.

Difficult to get the full licence before significant travel opportunities arise

Thousands of students take a gap year before going to university – they go travelling or they work in another country before properly deciding what to do. If this year disrupted their progress as a driver, it would make it harder for them to resume and get the licence once they would be moving to a larger city for studying where car ownership is more expensive due to parking issues.

It disadvantages children with no access to public transport

Public transport is fine in the city, but once you’re out in rural areas you might be lucky if you’re 50km from the nearest bus that passes twice a day. A car represents personal freedom for people who don’t live in an urban environment.

It would be expensive

It would cost millions of dollars to change the legislation and all the printed material, plus advise the public and updates processes across a multitude of different types of business from insurance companies to testing stations. Programmes run in the community and at schools would be thrown into disarray.

It would create an issue with people rushing to take a test

If an increase in age was announced, it would prompt a large number of people who would be affected by the increase in age to rush through their licence process. Some of these will get through by luck, but won’t be prepared, which could create more of the kind of dangerous situations the increase in age is trying to avoid.

Darren is an expert on driving and transport, and is a member of the Institute of Advanced Motorists

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