At 17, the UK’s minimum age you can get behind the wheel of a car is one year higher than Australia and New Zealand, two years higher than Panama and some American states, and three years higher than Alberta in Canada. Conversely, 17 is one year younger than many of our European and Scandinavian counterparts such as Belgium, Croatia and Norway. The UK occupies the middle ground.
Some people want the driving age reduced to 16, while others want it increased to 18.
Advantages of raising the driving age to 18
Increased demand for public transport
It will force every 17-year-old to take the bus or find an alternative means of transport such as biking or walking (unless they opt for ride-sharing or taxis). In areas where public transport is marginal, it may create more business that makes it more viable to operate increased services. Bus patronage has been declining in the UK.
Delaying the age of getting a licence may also discourage a small number of people from ever getting a licence which will further increase this patronage of public transport.
The overall reduction in private vehicle use would ultimately be better for the environment due to less carbon output, fewer resources used to make new vehicles, etc.
Fitness and physical activity
Because young people won’t be able to drive, they may walk or cycle more which will benefit their health. It has to be noted that there are some potential negative health outcomes when cycling in urban environments, too (increased accident risk, breathing pollution, etc)
Staying in school
Up to one-sixth of jobs require an employee to have a driver’s licence. Fewer job opportunities for younger people could mean that more people elect to stay in school, which could have an overall positive effect later in life.
17-year-olds are disproportionately represented in accident statistics. Our brains don’t finish maturing until we are well into our 20s. Delaying starting driving might temper some of the risk-taking that we see among some young people.
Reduced medical costs
If drivers are having fewer accidents, there will be fewer medical costs to support. One of the biggest causes of death and injury among young people is vehicle accidents.
Reduced social, financial and environmental costs
Death and injury have direct social and financial costs. There is the opportunity cost of a life wasted, the cost of rectifying any damage caused in the crash, the impact on friends and relatives, the waste of resources, etc. The approximate cost of a fatal accident is 2.2 million pounds!
Disadvantages of raising the driving age to 18
Will it really produce better drivers?
There’s an argument that adopting a graduated driver licensing system could be a better way of improving driving standards among young people. This is where there are more stages between being permitted to drive with a supervisor through to having no restrictions on driving. Australia has a 4-step process of theory test, learner licence, provisional 1 then provisional 2 before a person gets a full licence. While Australia does have a higher driver death rate than the UK, there are many other mitigating factors (cheap insurance for high-powered cars, large free-roaming land mammals, extensive rural areas with poor road quality, etc).
In the UK, it’s possible to take the theory test and practical test on the same day, and you can drive (supervised) without having taken a theory test.
Cost to vehicle-related businesses
Car culture among young people creates business for those selling related services. This business would take a hit if young people couldn’t spend their money in that way. However, that money is likely to be diverted into other pursuits.
Reduced government revenue
The government makes money from fuel taxes and vehicle taxes. Lowering these will mean less revenue to the government. This might be offset by a reduction in costs due to fewer accidents.
Fewer job opportunities for those without a licence
Many jobs require a driver’s licence, as mentioned above. Prohibiting a 17-year-old from driving may have negative effects on their income-earning potential. For some people, staying at school is not the right decision, and for those that can’t drive this could mean financial hardship.
Disadvantages for those with no access to public transport
In some areas of the UK, there are few, if any, regular bus services. If you’re a 17-year-old in rural Lincolnshire and you want to get a job 30 miles away, there’s every chance that you might be 10 miles from the nearest bus and that bus only travels a few times a day, or you have to use CallConnect, which has its limitations.
Disadvantages the disabled
Mobility for disabled people is extremely important. Having a vehicle provides much-needed transport where public transport might be extremely difficult or impossible.
Where it is parents that are disabled, a son or daughter can start assisting with transport duties at 17 rather than 18.
Pressure on parents
Many parents look forward to the day their offspring can take a car to football practice rather than them having to take them and sit around in the freezing weather. Having vehicle access allows 17-year-olds to do errands for their parents.
A driver’s licence is a valid form of ID. 17-year-olds would need to source another form, if required, such as a CitizenCard.
To change all the necessary legislation, all the printed materials (manuals, posters, etc), all the websites, and any other information in the general public to say that the new age for driving is 18 rather than 17 would cost millions of pounds. A multi-million-pound advertising campaign would need to be set up and there would be mass confusion.
Demand on services
If the driving age were to be raised, it would create a rush of people trying to get in before the cut-off date.
Inconvenience to the workforce
Delaying the driving age to 18 would create issues for those who enter the workforce at 18. Children who practice for their licence and take driving lessons as 17 have more available time as they are home from school by around 3:30. People who work (and who would have to commute) would find it more difficult to fit driving lessons into their schedule.