Driving is possibly the closest thing that we have to a rite of passage in the west. Once somebody can full command of a dangerous two-ton motor vehicle, they suddenly enter a world of genuine life and death responsibility. It’s a critical part of the “adulting” process for many people.
Remember, society tends to coddle children as they grow up. We don’t accept any form of danger. And that means that young people never really get a taste of what it means to have genuine responsibility. Many of the attempts to build “rounded” people involve an element of fakery or make-believe.
Driving, however, is just about as real as it gets in the modern world. Health and safety haven’t yet conquered the private motor vehicle, which means that many young people still have the opportunity to take the power of life itself into their hands.
Of course, very few people describe what’s going on in these terms. We don’t have a narrative about what it means to become a driver. It’s just something people do. But the fundamentals are all there. Driving is a kind of gateway to adulthood – and one of the only ones we have left.
You would think, therefore, that young drivers would be the most cautious. After all, they don’t have experience on the road. And they’re only just learning to get behind the wheel. Unfortunately, that’s not usually how it works out in practice. Instead, young drivers are much more likely to take risks than any other age group.
It’s all to do with the maturing brain. Experts think that it takes until at least age 25 for people to develop the ability to adequately judge risk. So because so many people start driving in their late teens, they don’t have the psychological machinery in place to know what styles of driving are dangerous and which aren’t. It’s just not in their makeup.
Getting into a crash, however, can have all sorts of long-term financial ramifications. Financial recovery after an accident, for instance, often takes a long time and help from professional legal experts. Rehabilitation from injuries is also sometimes a multi-year project.
As people get older, therefore, they begin to see the realities of these risks. It’s not just a matter of protecting themselves, but also their families and other people on the road. Getting into a crash can have all sorts of long-term adverse effects, both materially, and psychologically.
Older drivers, therefore, tend to leave behind their “boy racer” days. Their primary concern becomes comfort instead of thrill-seeking. And that’s reflected in the way that they drive.
They also naturally create a kind of unconscious intelligence that helps them become better drivers. Over the years, they learn about the kinds of situations that are dangerous and take precautionary action to prevent an accident. The interesting thing is that many people do this automatically, without even realizing it, which is why your chances of being in an accident plummet in your forties and fifties before rising again in old age.
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