The Next Step

No one seems to notice the largest (70+ million) population of individuals in the United States who are to this day, discriminated against.  These people have laws specifically written against them, excluding them from fundamental liberties that we take for granted: the right to vote, to drive, to work.  You may have guessed it; I'm talking about children.

Perhaps the reason we're so indifferent to laws hindering children is that by the time we have the ability to do something about it, we no longer fall into their classification.  It is an obvious, inherent danger to equality when the parties involved in the outcome of a vote, have no say in the matter.  Regardless of how "noble" our intentions are, we put our own needs above others.  Throughout history, the party with the most power works to retain that power, creating an exponential snowball effect which can only be broken through slow rigor or revolution.  Without perfect checks and balances, the system easily becomes corrupted.  "Governments derive their just authority from the consent of the governed. To be legitimate, those who govern and those who legislate must be elected by the people, not a special subset of the people..."

Now I know what you're thinking, "There's no way we can allow children to drive.  They don't have the mental capacity to be responsible in a situation involving people's lives."  Now imagine I replace the word "children", with "women".  If I said, "you know, statistically speaking, women are more likely to be involved in car accidents, and don't have the mental capacity to vote for decisions which impact the rest of society.  It's much easier to create a blanket rule instead of worrying about the individual exceptions to this rule."  Sadly, this was the reality less than 100 years ago in the U.S. and is still seen around the world.  You cannot make broad generalizations about any group of people, be it by gender, race, or age.  Each individual is entitled to his or her say in the way the world should be; no perception of reality is more correct than another.  I predict that within 100 years from now, youth will have suffrage and driving rights the same as adults.
Raw data courtesy of Wikipedia
Figure 0
For the sake of simplicity, I'll argue for children to be given the freedom to drive on par with the rest of the population.  Any point here can be applied in the same manner towards the freedom to vote.

We need to find a balance between giving each person their proper liberties and letting 3 year olds decide the outcome of the next election.  There is a glaringly obvious solution to the problem.  An 80 year old may statistically, be a worse driver than a 13 year old, but unlike the 13 year old, we give the old guy a chance to prove himself.  Instead of taking the easy road by applying a simple heuristic to a population of people, we should do the due diligence to properly test an individual's aptitude to perform a certain function.  Determining whether a person can act, by their aptitude at acting.  It's not a groundbreaking idea, but it's incredible that this isn't the case.  This would not only allow capable children to drive, but remove a majority of incapable adult drivers from the road.  By the definition of this test, the roads would be a safer place.

I'm not arguing that children in general are great drivers or thinkers; in fact a proper test will most likely rule out a huge percentage of the population from ever driving or voting.  However, we do owe children the right to take the test.  The argument is simply this: if you decide we cannot create laws based on generalizations of gender or race, then we cannot make laws based on generalizations of age.  If you do decide it is morally just to make laws discriminating by age, you must also agree that it is just to make laws discriminating by gender or by race. The world around us is continuous, not discreet.  We are taking something as fuzzy as humans and attempting to classify them using a binary function (Fig 2).  The proper driving test should result in a continuous function where the output, the percentage of people allow to drive, is the inverse of the accident involvement rate from a that population (Fig 3).  Creating the perfect test is not going to be easy, but we can do a hell of a lot better than the existing simple heuristic model.

*light blue line is a linear estimation
Figure 1
Figure 2
Figure 3


  1. On voting: It sounds like you are recommending creating a test children would need to pass in order to vote. But then I assume you mean this would apply to all people, not just children. This sounds like a scary bad idea because it could so easily be used to disenfranchise people who tend to disagree with those currently in power. Who gets to make the test and decide who passes?

    Also: Children taking a test to drive, just like everyone else, sounds like a reasonable idea if anyone is willing to insure them. But I wonder whether you argue that they should not only be allowed the same rights, but also the same penalties as adults? If a kid has passed his driving test, does he get tried as an adult if he recklessly kills someone with a car? If the same kid has not passed his gun test (are we creating a gun test too?) and instead recklessly kills someone with a gun, does he get tried as a kid? If he at age 12 has passed all tests available to him but commits a crime not directly related to any test, is he tried as a kid?

  2. Thanks for commenting @hatspretty, those are some good points.
    I'm cautious not to provide an actual implementation of a test or system following this belief because anything I could possibly come up with would be incorrect. I don't want to compromise the validity of an idea just because there is a flaw in how the idea is practiced, so forgive me if I don't go into specific details.

    Regarding voting and the potential for corruption in deciding this test...
    I believe the question is fundamentally this: given a minority group and a majority group, what is to stop the majority from completely taking advantage of the minority in a purely democratic state. The majority could even vote for taking the minority's vote away. This is not widely seen in the U.S. today because we've all agreed upon a set of basic human liberties. We have an elementary set of assumptions that we make in every decision we take (ex. the constitutional amendments). It is a painstakingly slow process to raise the bar of human liberties because it rarely pays out in the short term for the majority. However, it's an investment we must make for the benefit of humanity in the long run (ex. the right to due process instead of witch hunts). This is both the solution and the problem; today we see that the majority has taken the vote away from the minority, where the minority is the youth. Raising the bar of basic human liberties is so slow that it gets stuck in these hypocritical positions.
    tl;dr It's the job of the people to provide the proper checks and balances.

    I agree that the way we try people will also have to change. The two systems: giving people responsibility and holding people accountable for their actions must complement each other but can still remain independent. They are two systems optimizing for two different things, but should share fundamental beliefs. If we don't believe we can hold someone accountable for a certain action, they should not be given the responsibility in the first place. Holding someone accountable for their actions should again, not be based on their age but on the underlying factor that makes us assume that age matters, whatever that may be.