Don't Raise the Driving Age CARROLL COUNTY

December 31, 1992

Residents of Carroll and Howard counties have decided something must be done about the young lives being lost in car accidents and have started a petition campaign to raise the state's minimum driving age from 16 to 17.

It's not hard to see why the petitioners are concerned. They only have to point out what an awful year this has been for Glenelg High School in neighboring Howard County. From last February through November, three Glenelg students and a recent graduate of the school died in car accidents. Similarly tragic tales were reported throughout Maryland in 1992. Just this month in Carroll County, an 18-year-old was killed in a collision of pick-up trucks. The drivers were 19 and 20.

Two national insurance groups also have urged raising the minimum age, quoting statistics showing car wrecks as the top killer of American youths.

Studies indicate the carnage was even worse a decade ago. But then the drinking age was raised to 21. SADD and MADD chapters began to multiply. The designated driver came into rTC vogue. Drunken driving laws were toughened. Consequently, the number of 15- to 19-year-olds who died in alcohol-related car accidents fell from 6,280 in 1981 to 2,170 in 1988. (Alcohol reportedly wasn't involved in the local cases cited above.)

To continue this progress by raising the driving age is a tempting idea -- but a flawed one.

The simple fact is that people in their late teens, not to mention experienced adult drivers, are capable of driving as dangerously as 16-year-olds. A police spokesman in Baltimore County reports that recklessness appears more common to drivers in their early 20s than to those in their teens. Besides, many 16-year-olds must drive themselves to work or school. A teen-ager can hold a job, but isn't responsible enough to drive a car?

Maryland already issues a provisional license that forbids people under 18 from driving from midnight to 5 a.m., unless they're with an adult. They must also go a year without any traffic violations before applying for an unrestricted license.

Stricter enforcement of these and other existing regulations, especially the drinking-age law too often ignored by youths and some bar owners, seems the more logical approach to this problem. It won't end the carnage. It could help to reduce it.

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