The problem: 16- and 17-year-olds are shitty drivers.
The legislative solution: dramatically tighten the license requirements and driving restrictions on 16- and 17-year-olds.
The result: At least according to one study (though there is conflicting data) higher fatality rates are shifted from 16- and 17-year-olds to 18- and 19-year-olds.
Now, though, a nationwide analysis of crash data suggests that the restrictions may have backfired: While the number of fatal crashes among 16- and 17-year-old drivers has fallen, deadly accidents among 18-to-19-year-olds have risen by an almost equal amount. In effect, experts say, the programs that dole out driving privileges in stages, however well-intentioned, have merely shifted the ranks of inexperienced drivers from younger to older teens.
"The unintended consequences of these laws have not been well-examined," said Mike Males, a senior researcher at the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice in San Francisco, who was not involved in the study, published in Wednesday's edition of the Journal of the American Medical Assn. "It's a pretty compelling study."
The people who ran the study hypothesize that teens are simply waiting until they are 18 to get licensed and drive, thus avoiding the more onerous requirements. That's backed by a substantially lower rate of 16- and 17-year-olds getting licenses. (The plural of anecdote is not data, but my wife and I had been grumbling about how many of our baby-sitters seem to put off getting licensed.)
My point is not that all driving regulations are some sort of nanny-state twittery. Arguments for driving regulation are stronger than many other realms of government regulation. My point is that the government frequently doesn't think about what it's doing, doesn't understand what it's doing, and can't predict the probable outcome of what it's doing. High-minded regulations do not necessarily have good effects just because they are meant well. Government should exercise humility; citizens should exercise skepticism.
Last 5 posts by Ken White
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