There I was the other day, driving down Chicago’s famed Lake Shore Dr., stuck in traffic, when I looked over to my right and saw a kid at the wheel who was almost certainly too young to be a licensed driver.
He was supervised by an adult in the passenger seat, but the sight was still jarring.
And it sent my head spinning. On the one hand, I’ve long advocated for young drivers to get more time behind the wheel. I’ve been saying, almost since I got my own license, that arguing over whether kids should get licensed at 16, 17, or 18 misses the point — to me, it’s more about how much training young drivers get than how old they are.
Indeed, when I got into the Chevrolet Cavalier for my first “official” on-road drive as part of driver’s ed, I’d already been behind the wheel. My parents had let me drive a bit on empty farm roads and in empty farm fields, and even, on rare occasions, around our subdivision.
Meanwhile, my drive partner had never once driven an automobile. Guess who slammed into the curb immediately upon putting the car into drive? Hint: NOT yours truly.
On the other hand — Lake Shore Drive? Really? It’s one thing for a kid to learn how to drive by slowly tooling around a road surrounded by cornfields or under his parents’ watchful eye on lightly-traveled suburban side streets? LSD is a busy highway, and when traffic is moving, it moves at highway speeds.
I tried not to judge — maybe this kid just looked younger than he was. Maybe he’s had a bunch of wheel time. Certainly, the state of Illinois requires more hours behind the wheel now than it did in the mid-90s.
And sure — my last on-road drive with an instructor involved a freeway hike. Freeway driving is a necessary skill to learn when in driver’s ed. So, yeah, maybe the kid was just about done with his on-road learning.
Yet, I couldn’t help but be reminded of my old argument. So I pose to you — is age or behind-the-wheel experience more important when it comes to getting youngsters licensed safely?