The Chomp

The Student News Site of Gateway Regional High School

The Chomp

The Student News Site of Gateway Regional High School

The Chomp

The Student News Site of Gateway Regional High School

The Driving Age Controversy

Is experience or maturity more important?
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“I was driving to Gateway and hadn’t expected any of it.”

Rarely do people leave their house expecting to be involved in a potentially life-changing event like a car crash. However in 2010, according to the New Jersey Division of Highway and Traffic Safety, young drivers were involved in 10.2% of motor vehicle crashes in the state while only comprising 5.8% of licensed drivers.

Considering these statistics, the driving age in New Jersey has become a controversial topic regarding if it should be raised for safety and extra preparation, or lowered to encourage learning and gather experience at a younger age.

In New Jersey, the legal age to be eligible for a special learner’s permit is 16, and a driver’s license is 18. Teenagers can get their probationary license at 17. Both the examination permit and probationary licenses are enforced with restrictions regarding time, passengers, age, and training.

To qualify and achieve a special learner’s permit, 16-year-olds or older must undergo 6 hours of professionally supervised-behind-the-wheel driver training. To receive a probationary license, the learner must have at least 6 months of supervised driving with a licensed motor vehicle driver, and attend and pass the Basic Road Test where they can receive their probationary license either at the location of testing or at any licensing center. The learner must have a stamped permit and documents in order to receive their probationary license.

The special learner’s permit and probationary license come with enforced restrictions. For example, the restrictions on times, and numbers of passengers. When you have possession of your special learner’s permit, the restrictions such as no driving during the hours of 11:01 p.m. – 5:00 a.m., and accompanied/supervised by a licensed motor vehicle driver of your household still apply and are mandated to be followed by motor vehicle code title 39 chapter 3 section 13 subsection 2a (39:3-13.2a).

When a learner receives their probationary license, it’s mandatory to be knowledgeable of the boundaries and restrictions enforced with it. According to Title 39 chapter 3 section 13 subsection 4 (39:3-13.4), a driver with a probationary license is allowed one additional passenger unless of the age of 21. The holder of a probationary license may also not drive between the hours of 11:01 p.m. – 5 a.m., however, can be waived in case of an emergency. Furthermore, the holder of the probationary license shall not use any hand-held or hands-free interactive wireless communication device except in an emergency. Finally, the holder of the probationary license must ensure that all passengers are secured in a fastened and adjusted seatbelt.

An ongoing debate regarding lowering the driving age will show to have a significant impact on upcoming Juniors/Seniors. Obtaining a license would therefore be delayed in people in this age group.

One viewpoint holds that raising the age would help reduce fatal crashes. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, “the rate of fatal crashes per mile driven is nearly 3 times higher for teens aged 16 to 19 as it is for drivers over the age of 20.”

It is considered that to fix this, raising the age to 18 would allow for more experience and reduce total fatal crashes. Raising the driving age may encourage teens to use alternative forms of transportation, such as public transit systems or bicycles. Subjectively, 18-year-olds are likely more mature than 16-year-olds, despite only a 2-year age difference.  Since emotional maturity increases as we age,  social experiments have shown that it will be easier to not succumb to peer pressure and to instead process and make smarter decisions on the road.

The opposing argument regarding raising the driving age is limited availability to transportation, possibly impacting employment or other activities. It has been argued that if the driving age was raised, it would limit transportation availability and could limit personal growth at a critical age. The limited transportation would also rely on other factors such as, if public transportation is available, if parents are available, and large amounts of time consumption. If the driving age was raised, it’s also frequently mentioned how it could delay a new driver gaining experience. This could cause more accidents at a comparatively higher age, leading to a future debate regarding raising the driving age further.

According to Autoinsurance, “Younger millennial drivers are responsible for the most fatal crashes across the country. On average, this age group comprises 18.8% of all fatal accidents.” It is then stated that drivers ages 16-24 tend to have caused over 5,623 total fatal accidents.

Everyone has witnessed poor driving on the road and therefore may have opinions to share. One of these opinions is from the Gateway Regional High School student Ryan Blundell. Blundell has experienced a rear-end collision on his way to school from 2 young teenagers who had been on their phones. He has also mentioned that he’s seen many other instances of the phone being active while driving, and this has caused him to be very wary of young drivers.

The driving age should be raised to 18. 17-year-olds pay way less attention and tend to be very reckless on the road.

— Ryan Blundell

Retired Deptford Township Police Captain, and current University of Pennsylvania Police Lieutenant, Bill Bittner, has 30 years of firsthand experience in responding to and investigating motor vehicle crashes, many involving young drivers.

“Immaturity and inexperience almost always play a factor in these crashes,” Lt. Bittner said. Younger drivers don’t yet realize the potential consequences careless driving can have.

When asked about New Jersey’s relatively new Graduated Driver’s License laws, Lt. Bittner said that limiting the amount of time, and therefore experience, a young driver can gain may have a counterproductive effect. Lt. Bittner said that more behind-the-wheel training, with an experienced driver would be a likely benefit. Laws can’t fix immaturity, which he feels varies significantly among 17 to 21-year-old drivers, and may negatively impact more mature young drivers.

Another opinion is from Gateway Regional High School teacher and driving instructor, Scott Dzierzgowski, who feels as if the age should stay the same. Dzierzgowski claims that, “a lot of it depends upon the individual student,” and that their upbringing is the experience they gather, which will not change if the age is raised or lowered.

He has also mentioned that part of the responsibility is the parents, and that parents should set limits for their new drivers and gradually allow them to have access to full driving privileges. Dzierzgowski’s main point is that new drivers deserve a chance to be independent, however need to be prepared and ready to venture out on their own.

Most of them that I come across during my driving lessons are very capable of all of the physical skills necessary to drive.  The other aspects of driving take time to develop through experience, which is the entire purpose of the permit phase.

— Scott Dzierzgowski

While Mrs. Dziergowski feels as if it should stay, a fellow Gateway Regional High School PE teacher, Michelle Brangan, believes that lowering the age will cause more overpopulated roads in NJ which will lead to an increase in accidents. She has also mentioned that in a small state New Jersey, the roads are packed as is and will only get worse if the age is lowered, as well as allow younger and possibly more immature drivers on the road.

Unsafe driving, as the result of inattentive, immature, or intentionally careless vehicle operation on the road has and will continue to result in fatal accidents at any age. This has been the catalyst for the conversation regarding the topic of driving age. It’s advisable for drivers, regardless of age, to always know the regulations and refrain from immature, unsafe, and reckless actions on the road.


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About the Contributor
Benjamin Bittner
Benjamin Bittner, Staff Writer
Hi, my name is Benjamin Bittner, I am a senior at Gateway, and I enjoy writing mainly poetry and short stories. I am open to any sort of writing and wish to pursue my dream as a writer providing relaxing, calming poems and stories to ease the minds of those who struggle. My outside hobbies are fishing and volunteering with the VFW. I also like watching sports, typically football.
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    Melissa D EcksteinJun 9, 2024 at 4:06 pm

    Great job Ben!