Should the driving age in Minnesota be raised?

Fifteen-year-old Samuel J. Dunnuck, his 12-year-old brother Gabriel and the boys’ 48-year-old father — Thomas Dunnuck — were killed in a crash on I-94 in Alexandria on Wednesday morning when their car went out of control.

Samuel was driving. He had a learner’s permit. Now a legislator in North Dakota is pointing to the accident as a reason to raise the driving age in that state.

In North Dakota, kids can get a permit at 14 and test for their license after six months. The legislator’s proposal would increase the time to one year. The bill, of course, would not have kept a younger driver off the road on Wednesday morning.

Minnesota, under a new law that took effect just a few months ago, is more restrictive on young drivers. For the first six months, they can’t drive after midnight, and only one person under 20 is permitted in the car unless accompanied by a parent or guardian. In this state, you can get a learner’s permit at 15.

None of those laws would’ve kept a young driver off the road on Wednesday, either.

A report by an auto safety group last summer urged states to raise the age for getting a driver’s license to 17 or 18. MPR’s Midmorning explored the subject in September. From 2005 to 2007, 16- and 17-year-old drivers were involved in 116 fatal crashes, resulting in 133 deaths, the Star Tribune reported at the time.

Some public safety officials have urged the Legislature to raise the age, but they say they’re not hearing much of an outcry to do it. Floor debate on any driver’s restrictions usually underscores a salient point: Given the activities of a 16 or 17 year old, it’s a pain in the neck for mom and dad to haul them around.

Is it time to reconsider the driving age in Minnesota?

  • With our oldest it really helped that she could drive herself to some of the activities she was involved in. We live in the city so our children were able to walk to after school jobs and take public transportation to school if they missed the school bus . .

    We put our own restrictions on 16 year olds driving instead of having the government set them and they didn’t get to stay out with the car after midnight until we decided they were responsible enough.

  • I have a 15.5 year old nephew in Wisconsin. He’s been shooting a gun almost as long as he’s been driving tractors and 4-wheelers.

    Still, I don’t trust him driving a real vehicle on a road. I know he’s irresponsible and immature, like nearly all boys his age. He’ll be texting while he drives. He’ll have a car full of loud, distracting friends. He’ll be in a hurry on an icy road.

    Of course, many adults suffer from these same issues. But there’s an advantage that only comes with age. I didn’t get my license til I was 18, and I think I’m a better driver for it.

  • Jennifer

    Mom and Dad: Be inconvenieced and drive your teenagers around. Wouldn’t you rather have them alive?

  • Jennifer

    Mom and Dad: Be inconvenienced and drive your teenagers around. Wouldn’t you rather have them alive?

  • Kari

    Why let an inexperienced driver drive in less than safe conditions? When the roads are icy, maybe dad should drive. Seems like the best way too keep your family safe to me and not have the government involved at all.

    Government is involved enough.

  • Lily

    My 15 year old son decided (on his own) that he will wait till he is 16 to take driver’s education and get a learner’s permit. He thinks that he will be a better driver then, more mature, and less prone to peer pressure. I think he is probably right.

    That said, tragic accidents do happen to folks of all ages. Who knows if the age in this accident was related to it?

  • Joshua

    Is it time to reconsider the driving age in Minnesota?

    Hell No! As population rises and density increases these types of things are going to happen. It is sad that is for sure, but thousands of other kids are doing just fine.

    It would be just like our leaders in this modern age to try and bubble wrap everything so no one bumps their head.

  • I fail to see the correlation between raising the driving age and preventing inexperienced drivers from getting into fatal car accidents. An inexperienced driver is just that, inexperienced. Raising the age seems like an ageist political move similar to pseudoepinepherine bans which prohibit people under 18 from buying Sudafed because it can be used to make meth. Meth is still going to be made—and by the way the people *making* it are not generally under 18—and high school students—who are *using* it—will still have access to it. I could see the reason for raising the age limitation if there was a proven need for it—if there were some sort of data showing an actual relationship instead of just raw numbers (“5,000 teens die in car accidents” is not real, convincing data it is a large number, but what is that as a proportion of the population, as a proportion of the number of teens on the road, compared with different age groups, etc.)—as it stands the premise that people under 18 are so dangerous on the road they should not be allowed a license, is simply asserted with tragic accidents like the one mentioned in this posted used to say “look, see? I’m right, teens are dangerous drivers,” when the fact is that that accident could have happened to an 18 year old driving in his or her first winter just as easily.

    With all that said, do I think I was a crap driver when I was 16? Absolutely, but I was driving every day all year round, practicing constantly. Had I waited until I was 18 I would have had my license for one summer before going to college and not really driving again until the winter. I’m glad my first winter drive back from college wasn’t my first winter drive ever, and that if I hadn’t been driving since I was 16 it would have been in addition to being one of the first times I was behind the wheel. Sure I’m more adult when I’m 18 than 16, but my first winter driving experience was from home to school to work and back everyday, significantly less dangerous than driving from the south metro to st. peter and back.

  • Jon. Forbes

    Howdy Pals, I’m from Texas, but I don’t think that the driving age should be raised by the law. Parents should be the ones to decide when thier kids are responsible enough to drive. Raising the driving age can actually inconvience a Mother or Father who has a responsible teenager that can drive. Also, do you want kids near college-age still learning how to drive? No! They should be practicing up (under adult supervision if necessary) while they are still 15,16,17 years old so that when they get the college, they are qualified to drive.

  • mulad

    I don’t think we should increase the driving age in Minnesota. I’d rather see more thorough driver training if we think things need to be changed.

    I don’t know how long the 15-year-old was driving that day, but if he started in Fargo, 100 miles was probably too far for a new driver to go. I think the farthest I drove before I turned 18 was only about 20 miles. It takes time to get used to the monotony of driving long distances, and if conditions suddenly change, that’s adding a bad factor to an already dicey proposition. I’d also wonder if the kid was all that awake. I’d be pretty tired if I’d woken up at probably 5:30 and hit the road two hours later. Anyway, that’s mixing in too much speculation.

    Many Minnesotans get exposure to other types of vehicles before getting behind the wheel of a car. Among me and my friends, everyone rode bicycles, some had motorbikes, snowmobiles, and ATVs, and I’m sure some had driven boats or personal watercraft. Maybe we just need everyone to get in go-karts when they’re 14. We could expand driver training like they do in Europe, or find some uniquely Minnesotan way to do it. Finnish students even have to spend time on a skid pad (a flat road surface sprayed with water) to learn how to handle slippery conditions.

    I also feel that raising the driving age comes with a cost — it’s easier to learn things when you’re younger. The extra time to learn might not be perceptible when going from 16 to 18, but soon people would be pushing for the age to be 21 or 25, and that could cause serious issues. Then again, everyone would *really* want to improve the bus/train lines…

  • rob

    I hate to say this but, the kid shouldn’t have been behind the wheel at that age in the weather conditions that day. Learners permits are for driving around town, not I-94. We’ll never know what the parent was thinking but….it wasn’t a very good idea. Sorry.

  • Jean

    Many round trips by car are four miles or less.

    Many trips to schools or community centers fall into that category.

    Enlightened parents and their teens can talk it over whether teens can find a ride home or walk/bike home.

    Benefits include more time for parents to be at home relaxing (maybe) tending to brothers/sisters, preparing good meal, saving gas and wear and tear on car that local trips generate.

    Meanwhile, teens learn to be more self-sufficient (negotiating for a ride home) or get additional exercise while being in the community on foot. That adds to safety of the community which family lives in.

  • Amanda

    I used to be a claims adjuster for an insurance company. Car crashes happen to everyone. I should find some stats on this but all I’ve got at the moment to share is personal experience. We had to personally interview every single driver who was involved in a crash… our own insureds and the other driver(s) too. I think more individuals involved in serious accidents are older individuals – Not sixteen year old kids. Try 67 year old women and men – they’ve been driving so long they think they know and have seen it all. They don’t look twice, they don’t make complete stops, they are the ones who decide to step on it making a left hand turn in front of another car – or worse are the ones who don’t see the car making the left hand turn. Forget not giving drivers licenses to 16 year olds. Let’s try refresher courses for anyone who has been behind the wheel for 40 plus years.

  • Bob Collins

    We pilots are REQUIRED by law to have a flight review every two years. What do you think about requiring the same for drivers? This would likely be done via the insurance companies w/ discounts.

  • Claire McGlave

    I completely disagree. As a young driver myself it has become clear that in-experienced drivers will always be at some risk (and a risk to others) on the road, but this will not change based on age. New drivers will be new drivers, no matter what their age may be.

  • Amanda

    I completely agree with you Bob – tie it into the drivers license renewal process and insurance.

  • bigalmn

    There are a couple of issues that are not yet addressed here:

    There are devices that can be put on cars that monitor how the car is driven. When put on the cars, I believe insurance companies even give discounts because it makes teens better drivers. I especially like the video attachment that can show a kid how they were really driving.

    The second is the parents. I think they should be given a judgement test to see if they are fit to instruct and monitor their kids. Parents set the guidelines and can adjust them. Most parents can’t wait to put their kid in a car and let them fairy themselves to their activities. They don’t monitor or restrict their childs activity until it is too late.

  • Bob

    The bigger point than age is the fact that Minnesota’s driver education requirements for new drivers are a joke. Driver education isn’t nearly long enough or rigorous enough. It also doesn’t doesn’t train kids in how to handle driving emergencies. And there’s virtually no safety oversight for driver ed vehicles.

    In short, I think the driver education industry would be a good candidate for some behind-the-scenes media coverage.

  • bsimon

    “We pilots are REQUIRED by law to have a flight review every two years.”

    Interesting comparison. Can’t you start logging time & taking lessons at 14? Solo at 16? Commercial license at 18 – that’s right, 18 year olds can become professional pilots, which means they can accept money for flying you somewhere.

  • Bob Collins

    A commercial pilot needs a minimum of 250 hours of flight time, but I’ll bet there are very few who have that little experience.

    Keep in mind, for an ATP — air transport pilot — you have to be at least 23.

    In any event, pilots are much better trained and are required to continually be trained than drivers are.

  • bsimon

    “In any event, pilots are much better trained and are required to continually be trained than drivers are.”

    Indeed. In that regard, the european model for training drivers may be worth emulating. I like the Finn’s reported program of using the skidpad. Many people don’t believe it, but spending time in a frozen parking lot doing donuts is helpful training for driving on slippery roads. By intentionally putting oneself in out-of-control situations, you learn to recognize when on the cusp of being out of control – and are able to correct before completely losing control.

  • Bob Collins

    I like to think of myself as one of the best “snow drivers” …. ever. I spent hours and hours and hours in the parking lot of the Wallace Civic Center in Fitchburg, Mass. as a young driver doing exactly what you suggest (although now that I’m in Minnesota, I would suggest a well-frozen pond).

    Skids are a matter of physics and once understood, are more manageable.

    But that brings up another reason, I believe, that pilots make better drivers. They literally fly ” by the seat of their pants.” They feel a skid or a slip in the air by their rear ends, which tells them they need more rudder input.

    It’s the same thing, I think, with a car, in the snow. You have to understand what your rear end is telling you about what the vehicle is doing. Most people, I suspect, don’t realize they’re even in a skid or spin until they’re well into one.

    A frozen parking lot is perfect not only in teaching you what inputs you have to make in a skid, but how much of one. Many skids are made worse by over-controlling as a quick reaction to one.

    Obviously the best drivers can get into skids and accidents. But it’s indisputable by sheer logic that the best prepared are the most likely to survive.

  • Before Dad let me (same for Brother and Sister) take the drivers test we had to have a winter under our belt. That ment going out on one of the lakes in the winter and spinning the car (donuts). Also the long trip, we had to make 2 round trips in the spring or summer to the cabin, a 2 hour drive each way, with him – and no cruise control.

  • Sherry DeMarais

    I also have a 15.5 year old and we live in N.D.

    He just received his drivers license Dec. 10th. He will be 16 on March 18 2009 We have restricted his driving to and from school only with NO ONE else allowed in the car. He is never allowed to drive past dark. I have not found one other family with similar rules. In fact many of our sons friends have been driving for over a year already and we were so uncomfortable as parents to allow are son to ride in there vehicle. It was a hard battle because we didn’t want to offend the other child and we also struggled with are son being left out of all the other activities kids his age were doing. My husband and I just didn’t feel it was safe. In one hand are son suffered socially BUT we felt we were ultimately keeping him safe. The point I am trying to make is the law does need to be changed because 15-16 yr olds are just too immature and distracted to be driving. If everyone is allowing it then it makes it hard as a parent to enforce a stricter rule. If it was a law it would be a huge benefit to parents in helping keep are kids safer on the roads. I wish there were more parents willing to take a stand and do what’s right and not just do what everyone else is doing. Just because the law says they can drive at age 15 doesn’t mean it is right or safe.

    I would support a bill or proposal to change the driving age in a heart beat. I have known 3 kids age 15 killed in seperate auto accidents, I don’t want to see this satistic increase.

    Sherry DeMarais