HomeOpinion & AnalysisDangerous driving at a young age

Dangerous driving at a young age

by Tim Middleton

Why do we not let a child drive a car on our roads at the age of eight? The cynics among us might say that some eight-year-olds might drive a lot better than some of the drivers that we find on our Zimbabwean roads, but most of us would say that it would be a ludicrous suggestion. There are many good reasons why a child of eight should not be driving a car on the roads.

Let us just remember, though, before we go further, that it is good that people can drive on the roads; we do not ban driving cars simply because it can be dangerous. We can go on incredible journeys in a car; we can travel quickly and far. We can have great freedom to go where we wish, when we wish, with whom we wish. We can change route on the way and discover new and fascinating places and people. Parents long for the day when their oldest child can drive so that they can be released from taxi-driver duties (though instead their anxiety levels are on high alert until the child arrives without an accident)! For all of that, though, it is absolutely crucial that we drivers are all well equipped and trained to drive a car in public.

This is because there is no doubt that driving can be dangerous; there is plenty of evidence to support that (just read the newspaper each day). A car can go at great speed, even safely, but it can equally be extremely life-threatening even at a few kilometres per hour. A car travelling at 20 kilometres per hour can kill a pedestrian; a car travelling at 30 kilometres per hour which hits another car can kill passengers in both cars. A driver may feel he can control his own vehicle, but he cannot determine the driving of other drivers. However, a driver can lose control of his own car very quickly and easily if he is not careful.

The fact that driving can be dangerous is obviously one good reason why we do not allow children to drive until they have reached a certain age and have passed the requisite test. In Zimbabwe, that age is 16; in many other countries, it is 18 years. Is that because Zimbabwean children mature more quickly or because there are less cars on the roads in Zimbabwe or because…? We will leave that debate for another time and place!

For now, let us consider an interesting point. It is very strange that while we have a law in place for a child not to be allowed to drive until they are mature enough to handle this potentially dangerous piece of equipment and while we require that everyone who wishes to drive a car must have passed a strict test to determine if they are safe to drive alone on the roads, we do not have any such law or any such licence for a child of any age to drive an equally potentially dangerous vehicle called the internet. We do not allow anyone and everyone to teach but require teachers to undergo serious training and pass stiff examinations, yet we are happy for our children to jump onto a smartphone and go explore unknown dangerous fields, all alone, without any training, qualification or licence. The legal age for drinking alcohol in most countries is 18 (though in some countries it is 21) with the reasoning that youngsters below those ages cannot control themselves enough to curtail their drinking to the right level and thereby put themselves and others at huge risk, but the internet can be equally intoxicating to young people yet we think that children aged eight can handle it without supervision, examination or licence.

A youngster can only drive a car without supervision (and after serious testing) once he/she is considered mature enough, sensible enough, responsible enough to drive a car. Yet many parents think that their child is mature, sensible and responsible enough to “drive” a smartphone without supervision (and without any serious testing) into extremely dangerous terrain with numerous other potentially dangerous drivers in their way at a very young age. Many parents do not allow their 18-year-old child to drive a car, but they will allow their eight-year-old child to roam aimlessly unchecked through the minefields of the internet.

Where is our logic and reasoning?
While a smartphone can be as useful and exciting as a car, it can be equally dangerous, so we need to ensure that our young people are trained, equipped and mature enough to use them, for their safety and that of others. The internet can be a lot more dangerous than even our roads in Zimbabwe.

 Tim Middleton is the executive director of the Association of Trust Schools [ATS]. The views expressed in this article, however, are solely those of the author in his private capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of the ATS.

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