Idea: Reduce the voting age, raise the driving age

Editor's Note: On February 6, we asked BlueOregon readers to suggest progressive ideas that the next Oregon Legislature should enact. Over the next several weeks, we'll post some of these ideas here - and ask you to discuss them. Good idea? Bad idea? Any suggestions?

From Andrew Kaza:

Over in England, they are seriously debating (and the possible next Prime Minister Gordon Brown is backing) giving 16-year-olds the vote. Of course, you also have to be 18 to drive in the UK. So what about it...should we consider putting citizenship before driving (perhaps making citizenship part of the driving test??)

One clear (theoretical) benefit is that it should reduce all of our car insurance premiums, at least initially.


[If you have your own original progressive idea to propose, do it here: "There oughta be a law."]

  • (Show?)

    I'm definitely not for upping the driving age. That may work well in areas with great public transportation. However, once you're outside those areas, getting to work can be a real problem. And today many 16 and 17 year-olds do work-- not just for spending money, but to help pay for their college, help their family out, etc.

    I didn't get a car until a few months after I turned 18, which means I hardly drove between the time I got my license at 16 and when I got the car at 18. I did work during that time, and it was very difficult to try to coordinate my work schedule so that one of my parents would be available to drive me to work.

    At first it was the graveyard shift at IHOP on Fri & Sat during the school year and full-time during the summer. Thankfully for my poor dad, I was able to get the same schedule as a friend once I'd been there a few weeks. That meant he only had to drop me off & pick me up when my friend either didn't work or I had a temporary different schedule.

    It got worse my senior year when I got a position as a reporter at the local weekly paper. My school day ended at lunch since I already had more than enough credits for graduation, which made it easier to work full-time and be in school.

    After two weeks of my mom and dad having to drive me to every place I needed to go for a story and to Galveston to deliver the paper (and wait to make sure no problems arose during the pre-print process), we started looking at cars.

    I was lucky in that I had a stay-at-home mom-- that meant I didn't have to work around her work schedule as well, just things like my sisters being picked up from school, doctor appointments, etc.

    Lowering the voting age is an interesting idea, but I'd like to tie in increased civics education in schools to go along with that.

  • (Show?)

    I'd like to tie in increased civics education in schools to go along with that.

    I've always thought that you should have to pass the US Citizenship exam in order to graduate from high school. It's hardly enough, but it's a start.

  • Betsy Wilson (unverified)

    The clear benefit isn't that our insurance rates go down, but that probably thousands of lives would be saved from avoided car crashes (out of about 41,000 fatals a year, I bet at least 5% are caused/involve 16 or 17 year olds, meaning 2050 across the U.S.).

    Of course, car crash deaths, the leading cause of deaths for all ages 1-34, are simply societally accepted as part of life in the U.S.

    And if we need to improve other options to make the age increase viable, so be it.

  • Baloo (unverified)

    In Canada, the age you can buy alcohol or tobacco, gamble, vote, join the military and in some provinces hire a hooker or buy marijuana for recreational purposes is 19.

    Perhaps a better idea is make one age of majority instead of one to vote, one to participate in vices and another to register for the draft or join the military.

  • Ka (unverified)

    Set the voting age at whatever age you want to set all other privileges at, because with the power to vote comes the power to affect those threshholds.

    Which is not to say that 18-20 year-olds have gotten their act together to the point at which they've lobbied a lowering of the drinking age... but they could.

  • Garlynn (unverified)

    I think it makes sense to standardize a bunch of stuff at ages 16 to 18.

    Voting at 16 makes sense -- I was politically active at 14, so I definitely was ready to vote by 16. I was a freshman in college at 16!

    Legal beer and wine drinking at 16, with hard liquor at 18, also makes sense -- that's the standard pretty much all the way across Europe, and it works well there.

    Driving... well, perhaps driving should be at 18 unless somebody can show a demonstrated need to drive earlier. And bicycles should be encouraged as an alternative. That might help with the whole obesity issue, too.

    The military is probably appropriately kept at age 18. (Medical) marijuana should be 18 as well, same age as cigarettes...

    Bicycles are appropriate at any age, however, as is transit. And perhaps near-beer should be more widely available to minors, as a replacement for soda that is high in sugar and caffeine. I know that Belgium has begun experimenting with providing near-beer in school from first grade on, in order to reduce hyperactivity and attention-deficit disorder caused by drinks high in sugar and caffeine.

    And, of course, you can blog as soon as you learn to type. ;-)

  • Wesley Charles (unverified)

    Lower the voting age? Interesting idea.

    A perfect laboratory would be the City of Portland, where there is no minimum age (nor voter registration) required to sign a prospective candidate's petition to qualify for tax-payer funded elections.

    So, I propose that in order to make Portland elections more inclusive, there should be no minimum age and voter registration should be eliminated. And since some of these new voters may not afford a $.39 stamp, all ballots should come with a postage paid return envelope, paid by those who can afford to pay their own postage.

    • Wes
  • Harry (unverified)

    Right Wes!

    If the only goal is to make PDX more INCLUSIVE, then please don't EXCLUDE non-PDXers. Abolish citizenship, residency, and any other restrictions.

    Do we really want to exclude 4yr olds from being able to run for office and serve the public? Sten would be considered a wise old sage in your inclusive world....

  • Edward (unverified)

    Being that I am a high school student (16), I find this idea very interesting, and exciting. I would love to be able to vote! I have been seriously involved in politics for the past two years, and would love the ability to vote right now. However, I do not trust most of my generation to actually partake in this priveledge.

    With the driving age, raising the age for driving would be a big mistake. Teens see driving as a right of passage, and would face huge opposition. With their new priveledge to vote, they would vote down any referendum, or do their best to vote out legislators who support this legislation.

    Just a new perspective to see things from.

  • Wesley Charles (unverified)


    That's the spirit! I'm not sure if Madras or Medford are ready for the Pre-Schoolers PAC. But if PDX can use tax-payer money to fund candidates who can qualify with the support of "qualified contributions" from children, unregistered voters and non-U.S. citizens, it only makes sense to try the no-age-to-vote experiment in the Rose City.

    Naturally, with the right to vote comes the right to run for and hold elective office.

    Is the Portland Public School Board ready to be governed by a disgruntled Vernon 3rd-grader?

    Would Multnomah County be better off if the commissioners were actually real, teen-age Mean Girls?

    Is Oregon ready to be governed by that clever and articulate Quizno toddler, Bob?

    This thing has traction, I'd say . . .

    • Wes
  • (Show?)


    Wouldn't that be nice? I've been wanting to finish my degree so that I can eventually have a position where I could write curriculum for U.S. history, government, and civics. Our current curriculum in most schools is a complete joke. It's no wonder we keep repeating our mistakes. I don't think a person necessarily needs to memorize a whole bunch of dates, but there are certain basics about our history and our government that we should know.


    You do not need a stamp in order to vote. There are plenty of places you can drop it off for free-- several of them available 24 hours a day.

    I always drop off my ballot rather than sticking it in the mail. I have way too much mail disappear or arrive weeks after it should have, which makes hesitant about using the mail for something as important as my vote.


    On the driving thing...

    Outside of major metro cities, there are very few options available to 16 and 17 year-olds as far as transportation goes. I grew up in a rural town, and the only options were your parents, other people's parents, walking, or riding a bike. With many of us living outside town (and no place to ride except on the road), walking and biking could be an hour plus. And that was in nice weather and without having to pull over all the time because of cars.

    Want to participate in extra-curricular activities? You need a ride home (and to the events, if you're in something like sports). Want to have a job? You need a ride there and back.

    Bikes are not always an option. Many teens work a distance away from where they live. And many of them get off of work late in the evening.

    I think sometimes those who live in Portland forget how difficult it can be to get around when you don't have public transportation available. There are people living here in Multnomah County who live far enough from the nearest bus route that using the system is difficult. Many of the lines nearest to these people are "commuter" routes, which only run M-F during commuter hours. That means they wouldn't be available at the time teens would be getting off work during the week or the times they'd need them on the weekend.

    I don't think the answer is taking away their driving privledges. I think the answer is making EVERYONE a better driver. Teens often drive bad because the people around them drive bad. I'm on the roads every day, and I can tell you that I am one of a VERY small minority that actually follows the traffic laws. I'm always stuck in the "slow" lane just because I choose to go 55 in a 55mph zone. When I do get into one of the other lanes (say my exit is a left exit or I'm heading east on I-84 and know the inside lane is the only one that stays around after the I-205 exits), I get people who ride my tail so close that I can't see the front of their car. Should I have the need to hit my brakes suddenly, I'd have an SUV or pickup in my trunk.

    I regularly sit at green lights while people continue to turn on the red.

    At those intersections where two lanes can turn, I regularly have people turn into my lane even though it's clearly marked on the pavement which lane you're supposed to turn into. I had a truck today almost slam into my Honda, and a Trimet bus that cut everyone off because he was supposed to turn into the straight lane, but wanted to be in the straight/turn left lane.

    Everyone around us are bad drivers, and teens learn from that example. The worse we drive, the worse they drive. Yes, they are going to be a bit worse than us, as they have less experience and are willing to take more risks. But their driving gets increasingly worse as ours does.

  • (Show?)

    Another idea would be to have rather stringent learner permits for drivers 16-17 (I'm talking off the top of my head here, so I don't have a good sense of what "stringent" looks like). I think the biggest problem isn't just that 16-year-olds don't have good sense, but we also allow pretty incompetent people behind the wheel. Driving is more complicated and dangerous now than it was even ten years ago (what to speak of 30). A stringent learner's permit might give drivers a two-year apprenticeship before they became full-time drivers.

    As to the voting age, I think the problem there is that we don't engage youth. It's not like 18-year-olds are taking great advantage of their right, so I don't think lowering it would greatly increase civic involvement. That's a function of the public schools. If we could re-engage the citizenry, it might be interesting to experiment with lowering voting age.

  • Aaron (unverified)

    Absolutely lower the voting age, and raise the driving age. Young drivers are the highest cause of crashes in the U.S. (of course they are also the highest percentage of victims, coincidence?). "A National Institutes of Health study suggests that the region of the brain that inhibits risky behavior is not fully formed until age 25, a finding with implications for a host of policies, including the nation's driving laws." What is needed is a stronger effort by parents to set an example of letting others do the driving (public transportation) or using safer means (bicycle).

  • activist kaza (unverified)

    Jenni makes a good point but anybody who's been there knows there's a LOT of rural countryside to the UK and that hasn't provoked any groundswell over there to allow driving at 16. And as Betsy points out, the accident rate in our country for 16 & 17 year olds (ahem, particularly males) is atrocious. As a public safety issue, this would probably lower fatalaties much more than the revision of drinking laws has. I wonder if anybody at MADD has ever advocated this??

    Glad you picked up on this one, Kari...I kinda thought it was worthy of some further debate by the bluOR intellegentia!

  • (Show?)

    But how long has the driving age there been that high? I'd guess it's been that way for some time.

    You can't compare changing something here that's been allowed for at least a few generations to a place that's already been doing it for quite some time. I have numerous friends over in Europe, and they tell me that not only are things set up differently up there to handle the fact that teens can't drive, but society handles it differently. They also spend quite a bit of time in driver's ed before they can get their license.

    Their parents' work didn't mind when they had to leave for a short time to pick their teen up from school after an extra-curricular event or to run them to work. Many areas allow the use of mopeds for 16 and 17 year-olds.

    When I was in school, only a few of my friends who lived in various parts of Europe worked, as their parents' wages were high enough to not need them to work. The few that did often worked someplace that was easy to walk to, or at a family business. In my home town, just about every student started working when they turned 16. The only ones who didn't either lived on a ranch/farm and were already working, or whose parents made quite a bit of money.

    For many of us, biking to work or school would have meant an hour plus of biking. I'd have needed to leave my house at about 6 a.m. to be in class at 7:20 a.m. To get to my work, it would have taken 3+ hours by bike-- and that's riding alongside "feeder" roads for the freeway.

    It was those jobs that bought my senior yearbook, my cap & gown, my graduation invitations, my books at college, and the first few months' worth of rent at my apartment. It's also what paid for the expenses surrounding the extra-curricular activities I was involved in-- Student Council, Math Club, Academic Decathlon, etc.-- as well as covered the cost of all the AP exams I took. It was these activities and exam scores that put me in the Who's Who book every year, kept me involved in school, encouraged me to keep my grades high, and ended with a 4-year scholarship to college.

    My dad's work had slowed way down by my junior year, and there was no extra money for any of this-- I even bought my own school supplies and clothes as well as some of those for my younger siblings.

    I don't see the driving problem being a "teen" problem-- I see it as a problem at every age level.

    Driver's ed needs to be more stringent, longer, and harder. Our first day of Part II of driver's ed, I was put into a car and told to drive on a day where we were having a severe rainstorm. The problem? I'd never driven a day in my life. I'd told them that as well-- besides than 30 minutes of similation just a few moments before, I'd never even been behind the wheel. Instead of driving on major roads with speeds of 45+, I should have been put in a parking lot or other such open space where I could become accustomed to the car before being put on a road.

    The similations that we spent half our time on were a joke. As long as you turned your steering wheel at least a little for curves, turns, etc., you received good marks. So when going around a slight curve, you could turn your steering wheel all the way to one side and still be ok. Same with the gas and brake pedals-- as long as they were pushed down some, it registered as ok. So you could push the gas all the way down in a 20 mph area, or slam on the brakes to slow down-- it all registered as if you'd done it correctly.

    We need to do something about all drivers. This 80+ moh driving in 55 mph zones is ridiculous. It's getting less and less safe to actually do the speed limit on the freeway. Stopping at a light that's turned yellow (when you're far enough back to stop safely & it's obvious the light will be red before you hit the line) is unsafe as well-- people see no problem with running red lights.

    I almost feel like we need to make several changes to the system, the least of which is raising the driving age:

    • driver's ed needs to be longer and more stringent. It would also be nice if it wasn't so expensive-- many teens don't take it because of that, they just learn enough from their parents to pass the tests.

    • mandatory computer and driver tests for all drivers

    • major increases in traffic fines, especially ones like failture to yield right of way, failure to stop at a traffic signal, speeding, unsafe driving, changing lanes without a turn signal, turning from the wrong lane (i.e., making a right from the inside lane), avoiding a traffic signal by cutting through private property, etc.

    • all "warnings" given by police are recorded in the system and kept for a specific amount of time (say 6 months). If you're stopped for the same thing again during that time, you get a ticket. After that time, it's as if it never happened. I know people who have been stopped for the same infraction 4+ times in a matter of weeks, only to get a warning every time.

    Right now our traffic ticket system is almost a joke to people. We have to change that and make the consequences severe enough so that people think twice before going 80+ on the freeway, making a left on a red light, etc.

    Raising the age to 18 is just going to increase the accident rate amongst 18 and 19 year-olds. It's also going to mean more teens who are just learning to drive at the same time as they've gone away to college-- at least at 16 and 17 they're at home where their parents can do some supervising of their driving.

    I did like the idea above about a provisional license of some sort-- maybe one that would last until you're 18. For those who get their license at 18, there could be some sort of time length specified provisional period.

  • Maddy Loeb (unverified)

    Lowering the voting age is a good idea because younger people have opinions. They need to speak out.

    Raising the driving age is an alright idea except for the fact that some people need to drive to raise money for college or even high school. The driving age should stay the same.

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