Too Much, Too Soon – What’s The Minimum Age for Responsibility?

We all did stupid things growing up. Hopefully we learned from them, and we’re better, more responsible adults for having made the mistakes we did. But then again, for many of our readers our adolescent indiscretions took place in a very different time. Speaking for myself, the first car I ever bought with my own money was a 1971 Pontiac GTO, complete with 455HO power under the hood. I can’t tell you how many times that car tried to kill me – at age 20, I was ill-equipped to handle that much engine strapped to a tired A-body chassis with bald, cheap tires. But because the car was so treacherous, I learned to stay way below its limits, and as a result I never tested the effectiveness of the lap belts or other “safety features.”

Today, cars have never been safer. Case in point: the following crash, just last week, on SoCal’s infamous Glendora Mountain Road. Popular with mountain bikers because of the views, and motorcyclists and drivers for its many twists and turns, the GMR has seen its share of bad wrecks. But take a look at these photos of a wrecked 2010 Camaro SS, originally posted on, and ask yourself whether this crash would have been survivable in even a car as new as a 4th gen Camaro.

8thCivic member “blackonblack” describes the incident:

“So this past week my little brother flipped his 2010 Camaro SS up GMR. He was untouched thankfully. Basically what happened is if you guys know where the first sort of strait away is where you crest the top and can see Azusa side on your left and Glendora side on your right well its about a mile past that strait. Car smashed into the hillside causing it to go up the mountain side and bounce off flipping upside down. No word yet from the insurance but the car only had 6,500 miles on it.”

The 18-year-old driver walked away basically unscathed, despite the massive damage to the car. Taking a look at the carnage, you have to wonder whether or not any car you own would have let you live to tell the tale, but it also makes me wonder whether the cars we’re seeing now might actually be part of the problem. Traction and stability control, plus increasingly-advanced antilock brakes make the limits of current cars ridiculously high compared to what most of us grew up with, and seatbelt pretensioners, multiple airbags, and engineered crush zones make the consequences for exceeding those limits much less final than they used to be.

Beyond the obvious questionable wisdom of turning a teen loose behind the wheel of a powerful car, I wonder if all the safeguards in place will end up breeding a generation of future adults with no respect for the consequences of their actions. I know that when I was 20, I thought nothing bad would ever happen to me, even with that GTO always trying to swap ends or cross the center line on the freeway. If I had been driving a car as capable as a new Camaro, there are a lot of lessons that would have gone unlearned – impulse control was something that took me years to develop, even when I had a series of close calls to educate me. Disconnect cause from effect, and who knows what I might be like today.

You’re only immortal for a limited time, though, and I eventually figured out that the “fun” I was having wasn’t worth hurting myself or somebody else. But what if you never get that lesson in small doses? What if you end up with the resources and capabilities of an adult, but none of the knowledge that, to put it plainly, “stupid hurts”? Then, instead of losing a few hands of penny-ante while figuring out the game, you’re going all-in, all the time.

I’m not saying that we should make our cars less safe, or that a parent should intentionally put their child in jeopardy, no matter how small, to ‘vaccinate’ them against a terminal case of the stupids later on down the road. Everyone would rather write a check instead of an epitaph to cover their kid’s mistake. But I think that we need to find a better way to help the next generation of car enthusiasts navigate the dangerous stretch between getting a license, and finally gaining the understanding that ABS, ESC, and SRS aren’t magic.

About the author

Paul Huizenga

After some close calls on the street in his late teens and early twenties, Paul Huizenga discovered organized drag racing and never looked back, becoming a SFI-Certified tech inspector and avid bracket racer. Formerly the editor of OverRev and Race Pages magazines, Huizenga set out on his own in 2009 to become a freelance writer and editor.
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