I have a passion for cars. Always have. I also teach high school. This explains why I have a lot of thoughts on car safety for young drivers.
Recently a friend of mine suggested the driving age should be 18 or higher. Reflecting on this idea, I recall my own driving history and I seem to remember doing more stupid things while driving in my 20s than I did as a teen. To that point, as a 19 year old I had an 80 horsepower Plymouth four door. As a 26 year old I had a 300 horsepower Pontiac GTO coupe. Draw your own conclusions.
More frightening here is the fact that a new "small" Mustang V6 today is faster than my GTO was. The V8 GT version can easily cause a mid-life crisis adult serious problems!
I've concluded that safe driving is more a matter of experience and the tools you are using than strictly a matter of age. In the South where there are a lot of farms and hunting is popular, kids learn to drive early more or less out of necessity. There are tractors to run, off road vehicles to use, and trucks to haul products and equipment. This is a good thing because the muscle memory needed to make the routine driving processes automatic is already well developed by the time these kids get a learners permit. They don't have to think about getting the car in gear, which peddle to push, or how to use the turn signals.
Our driving equipment today is engineered to an inch of its life for safety. Air bags are everywhere, auto body crush zones, three point seat belts, and electronic gizmos that warn with beeps and whistles if you deviate from your chosen path or follow too closely or don't move when the vehicle in front of you moves or ... or ... The best I've heard lately is the head nod warning. If you nod your head like you're going to sleep, the car sounds an alarm to wake you.
And the standards for auto safety are becoming more and more stringent as manufacturers strive to build safer vehicles. The recent van crash tests put one model at the back of the pack for crash safety. This vehicle would have led the field ten years ago, an indication of how far we've come here.
In summary, I'm convinced kids should learn to drive as early as possible in order to develop the muscle memory for routine tasks behind the wheel. Also, we should put our kids in the safest vehicles we can afford. These may or may not be the coolest ones on the road. Probably not.