Friday, May 27, 2005

Legalizing Responsiblity

No one likes to see people get hurt, especially kids who are at the prime of their life and have so much to experience. That’s why the flurry of car accidents in Maryland last year was so tragic. But instead of encouraging parents to take an active role in their kids’ lives the Maryland legislature is just passing a matching flurry of laws to try to change behavior.

The basic result will bar countless high schoolers from driving themselves teenagers now require at least sixty hours of practice.

Here’s where it gets interesting: according to existing law, the minimum driving age is 18 but parents can sign a waiver so their children can get a learners permit at 15. Most do. The parents are saying they want their kids to drive which means one or more of three things:

1. The parents want their kid to drive themselves because they feel the teen is responsible enough to handle it and wants to allow for real world experience.
2. The student is involved in extracurricular activities and this level of independence makes it easy or possible to continue these activities.
3. The parent is irresponsible and signs the wavier even though the teen isn’t ready to handle driving.

The law makes things worse for all these families. The first two possibilities mean the law takes away freedom and opportunity unjustly. In the last scenario, the law sends a message to the parents and kids: you don’t need to be responsible; the state will take care of that.

And while I’m sure most of the criticisms of the legislation come from those of the first two categories, I’m more concerned about what the last means. It is merely a small piece of a much larger message: Trust must be enforced and not earned. A responsible citizen is a law-abiding citizen. Only the legislators can make you safe, happy and free.

Is that really the message we want to send to our kids?

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