Let Us Rent Cars

Back in August, Zipcar made the decision to give 18-year-olds in Cambridge the privilege of using their cars. They justified this decision by saying that even “at 18, young adults have adult commuting needs.” While this is only a pilot program for the car rental company, this should become a permanent fixture across the country. Eighteen-year-olds, as adult members of society, should be able to rent cars.

My friend and his girlfriend, both 20, went on a vacation to Cape Cod this summer. They were not allowed to rent a car, so when they landed in Boston, they were forced to rely on buses to get them where they needed to go. Their plane arrived late, too late for their bus transfer, and they only reached their destination by accepting a ride from a kind stranger. Later on the trip, they traveled from one end of the cape to the other via public transportation. The ride, an hour by car on the highway, took five hours instead due to bus switches and traffic jams on local roads. While they made the most of their vacation, renting a car would have helped them avoid these stressful situations.

Rental car companies practice some of the most extreme forms of age discrimination in the country. Aside from most companies refusing service to 18-year-olds, some companies even slap 25-five-year-olds with a surcharge. At 25, many Americans have serious needs for a rental car: jobs, families, etc. Most Americans start driving when they are 16. What more is a young driver expected to learn that will make him a safer driver, when he or she has already been driving for nearly a decade?

Young people with clean driving records have to pay more because they have been labeled as part of a “risky” age group. It is unfair to fault all young people for the faults of some inexperienced drivers. While there is an alarming number of teenage car accidents, by 18, drivers are far more competent on the roads than they were two years ago. An 18-year-old is half as likely to get in a car crash as a 16-year-old.

At 18, young people drive on the same roads and are subject to the same driving laws as older adults. In Massachusetts, as in most states, young adults face no driving restrictions when they turn 18. The Commonwealth has made the rational decision that 18-year-olds ought to be granted the same rights to the road as other citizens. Current policies of car rental giants like Budget, Enterprise, and Hertz stand in opposition.

Young people are given a bad rap about their driving ability. There is plenty of truth in the statement that there is an alarming number of accidents involving young people, but it is unfair to characterize all of us that way. In many ways, young people may be more aware of the rules of the road than older drivers. Most states require that young drivers complete a driver’s education program in order to get a license. Youth who are fresh out of driving school may lack the experience of older drivers, but learning how to drive with a professional driving instructor allows young people to be safe and confident drivers from day one. By the time we become young adults, we not only have driver’s education under our belts but also significant time behind the wheel.

Rental car companies need to catch up with the times. They are missing out on an entire market of young adults who want their services. Instead of refusing service to all youth, they should treat them as adults and allow good drivers to rent the cars that they need and deserve. This Zipcar experiment will prove that “young” is not synonymous with “irresponsible.” Other companies would do well to judge young adults based on their record rather than their reputation.

Jackson F. Cashion ’13, a Crimson editorial writer, lives in Adams House.

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