This past week brought a tragic car/train accident in Southeastern Michigan that managed to make it into national news.
Early last Thursday afternoon a passing Amtrak train pulverized a car full of young people when the driver decided to circumvent waiting cars at the crossing in an attempt to beat the train. The car occupants included four boys and a girl, ranging in age from 14 to 21.
The driver was 19 and operating the vehicle on a suspended license. It took a mile before the train came to a complete stop. When I saw the initial footage on TV taken by helicopter, I couldn’t tell where the car was.
Every time I hear of an accident of this magnitude, I hold my breath, in part because I have children in that age range, and in part because my business trains young people how to drive.
Of course an accident like this one is a sad situation, one that causes any reasonable parent to take pause. Today’s Detroit Free Press includes some opinion pieces regarding the accident. One in particular written by Rochelle Riley bemoans the fact that the Michigan state legislature is to blame because it is legal for 14-year-olds to “get a license” before they have any experience.
You got it wrong, Ms. Riley. Michigan’s graduated licensing law isn’t perfect, but it's far better than it was pre-1997. For 20 years before that, Michigan teenagers took two weeks of class, had two to six hours of driving with an instructor, and automatically got their license after 30 days on a permit.
The Michigan Graduated Level One License is not a driver’s license in the traditional sense. It’s a fancy governmental name for a learner’s permit. The only way a minor can get one is by taking 24 hours of class, six hours of driving, four hours of observation and a passing grade in a rigorous written exam.
True, kids can get a permit here if they are 14 years and nine months old. The reason for changing the law to such a young age is so that those kids can practice with their parents for 15 months. That’s because young drivers have to have at least six months on the permit, take and pass the Segment II class, pass a road skills test, and be at least 16 years old in order to get the Level Two or restricted license.
Despite what some people think, a driver’s license is not a right, but a privilege that has to be earned. Graduated licensing provides steps to complete before the privilege can be given.
But it’s not just the kids who are given an enormous privilege at such a tender age. Parental attitudes are a huge part of the equation. Graduated licensing was born out a desire to give more control and participation to the young driver’s parent.