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Driving

This is about a rite of passage (r-i-t-e) which many young people in their mid-teens consider a right of passage (r-i-g-h-t)—and that is, driving a car. I know when I was that age, getting your driver’s license was right up there with being born itself. My 16 th birthday was on a Sunday, and I had to wait a whole day before the drivers’ license office would open up again on Monday! Think of it—I had to waste a whole day of my legally driveable life because of some bureaucratic, silly rule.

 Although it wasn’t lawful, I had been driving my father around on country roads for a couple of years, so I didn’t bother with a provisional license. It wasn’t called that then, it was called a “learner’s permit,” but it amounted to the same thing. I just whizzed through the written test, did a short road test flawlessly, and, bingo, I was turned loose on the unsuspecting public at the tender age of sixteen. (In South Carolina , at the time, kids could get drivers’ licenses at fourteen!)

 Nowadays, there is such a thing as a provisional licensing, and in most states there is a three-tiered structure to obtain full driving rights. And, guess what? The accident rate among teenagers has dropped way down. (They still have the highest accident rate, but it’s much lower than it was.) Such a system went into effect in North Carolina in 1997. It’s called “graduated driver’s licensing,” and it works! In North Carolina , 16-year-old drivers that have car crashes are down over 20 percent—because they drive only with adult supervision (usually their parent), or only in the daytime otherwise. And those who have completed the GDL? Their fatality rate has dropped nearly 60%! When you’re sixteen years old, you can’t wait to grow up, and driving is one of the milestones of getting there, but, obviously, this is something that goes better at a slow speed.

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