It’s sometimes useful to compare what happens in other countries to give us a sense of perspective on our own systems. When we see how other countries react to problems, we can ask whether we should be doing the same. Take Britain as an example. They have set seventeen as the magic age at which young people can apply for a permit to drive. To get a full driver’s license, a young person must pass a theory test and then a practical test. Despite this later arrival on the road, about 20% of all deaths on the roads feature drivers between the ages of 17 and 24. This despite the fact drivers in this age range drive only 5% of the total miles in any given year. So even though driving only a few miles compared to older drivers, they contrive to kill more than their fair share. As a result, there’s active discussion on whether the age should be increased to eighteen. It’s suggested this would save several thousand lives and save more than two-hundred-million pounds in the cost of hospital treatment.
The question of age would be interesting to debate except for one perhaps startling fact. Substantial numbers of younger drivers ignore the law and drive without a license. No matter what the police do, younger people continue to drive under age. Given this, the latest revelation is merely sad and not shocking. It seems the police are catching children who are only eleven not only driving, but driving drunk. It seems just over a quarter of all those convicted of drunk driving in Britain are aged sixteen or less.
We should be clear about this. When it comes to the young, the CDC in America confirms driving is the leading cause of death. So to see that young people are not only driving when underage, but also doing so after drinking alcohol, is a real wake-up call. The British experience is that the police have been catching about five underage drunk drivers a week for the last six years. Given the limitations on the punishments that can be given to juvenile offenders, there’s no deterrent in operation. Indeed, the criminal statistic show the drunk driving is often combined with other offenses like theft of a motor vehicle, driving without a license or insurance, and the inevitable moving offenses of speeding, careless and dangerous driving, and so on.
The British government is wringing its hands, claiming there’s little that can be done. It’s not that road safety is a low priority over there, but it’s the practicality of the situation that defeats them. Changing the law to increase penalties is not going to improve matters until there are more police officers on the road to catch illegal drivers, access to alcohol by the young is made more difficult, and social attitudes are changed. There’s no sign that this triple whammy is going to happen any time soon. We should just be grateful our young people don’t drink and drive to the same extent. Or do they?