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Teen Driving Fallacies

Written by Katrina Moncure Jan 04, 2006

It’s been nearly 13 months since Alex KP, Dave Varney, Alexis Grant, Rio Samsie, and I went to this “Town Hall” meeting at Bethesda Chevy-Chase High School. The subject was a favorite of those with political power: teen driving. Although, I suppose anything related to teens is a favorite of politicians: just take more rights away from them in the name of protection, and they’ll sweep in the votes of mindless, worried parents. But, that’s a bit beside the point… or is it? Come to think of it, isn’t that the very problem? That we allow ridiculous fallacious arguments from those who are supposed to be in charge to sway the opinions of the general public? While I could go just about any direction with this, let’s stick to this town hall meeting itself.

One “argument” they used quite a bit was the hurt feelings of the parents whose children had recently died in car accidents. Apparently, if so many more driving restrictions were in place, their children would still be alive and they wouldn’t be grieving so much. Also, these restrictions would keep more “children” from dying behind the wheel.

A few things are wrong with that. While I genuinely feel sorry for these parents for losing their sons/daughters, I hardly see how that applies to the matter at hand. Wouldn’t it be just as painful if their daughter was killed in a car accident when she was 30 rather than 16? Wouldn’t it be just as awful if she had died riding in a car with an adult, probably one of the parents themselves? “What if” arguments are fun but they make no sense. I mean, what if these age restrictions were in place? Would she still have died? Well, you can’t know that, because it’s contrary to what actually happened. You can’t invent a false hypothetical past scenario, whip up some favorable conclusion from it, and seriously expect to pass it off as a sound case. If these age restrictions were in place, I’d bet their daughter would still be alive and that frogs would begin raining from the sky and all trees would magically turn into candy canes. Frogs and candy canes sound weird? Of course they do. So does saying their daughter would still be alive under some false hypothetical condition when, in reality, she’s dead and never coming back.

But, I almost forgot. Since we’re talking about keeping teens safe, you can use all the logical fallacies you want, and people will still agree with you. Anyway, let’s look at another.

This expert panel (which, by the way, consisted of MADD’s Wendy Hamilton, a couple of Maryland legislators, and some guy from Chrysler) at one point quoted a paramedic who, teary-eyed, told one of the legislators that he does not want to have to peel another bloody child (read: teenager) off the street. This was taken to mean that stricter driving rules on teenagers would prevent this, that stricter teen driving rules would keep any teens from dying on the road ever again.

Do I even need to point out how ludicrous that is? I mean, to seriously think these magical, cure-all age restrictions on the road will actually prevent any more child or adolescent car crash deaths entirely is about as thick as you can get. As long as children and teens are still even riding in cars or buses, some will still die in accidents. Ever stop to think their mothers might be more interested in changing the radio station or lighting a cigarette than watching the road and wind up plowing into an on-coming car, killing herself and, guess what, killing her children! So in a scenario not even touched by these wonderful strict age-based driving laws, children have still died.

But, again, we’re talking about youth, so logical fallacies by the barrel full are okay, and parents will nod along thinking “Great! These people are working to make sure my son/daughter will never be a bloody mess to be peeled off a roadway.”

One of the legislators repeatedly stated two very thoughtless things. She mentioned how her mother, even now, still considers her a child. Cute. What was even cuter was how she acted like it had any bearing whatsoever on what was being discussed. The other was her assertion that when teens get together all they do is chatter mindlessly. People say the same thing about women. What’s her point? Why’s that an excuse to remove people’s rights?

But of course, logic falls to emotions in situations like these. Parents are concerned about only one thing, that their children will be safe, even if all they’re getting is a false sense of security and they know it. They want to hear that politicians are on their side in the whole parents vs. teens battle. They want to hear that this siding is wearing a nice disguise of being about safety. They give these overzealous politicians their votes for it. And, most of all, being true as well for people who don’t have any children, they go along with it because they know they themselves and their rights will not or ever be adversely affected by this.

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