Concerns About Youth Delaying Getting Driver’s Licenses

Teen_DrivingObtaining a driver’s license is a primary life skill for teenagers leading them to independent living, but many teens are shirking this responsibility.

In the past, getting a driver’s license was seen as a rite of passage. Teens waited eagerly for their 16th birthday to gain a new level of freedom. This is no longer the case, and safety experts are concerned for several reasons that we will explain later in this blog. Several recent studies show that, today, many teenagers are deciding to wait to get their driver’s licenses. For example:

  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the percentage of high school seniors who had a driver’s license fell from 85% in 1996 to 73% in 2010.
  • The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety reports that less than half (44%) of teens obtain a driver’s license within 12 months of the minimum age for licensing in their state and just over half (54%) are licensed before their 18th birthday, a big drop from two decades ago when more than two-thirds of teens were licensed by the time they turned 18.
  • A survey by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute found the following declines in licensure:
    • Among 19-year-olds, 87% had their license in 1983 compared to 69% in 2014.
    • Among 18-year-olds, obtaining a driver’s license fell from 80% in 1983 to 60% in 2014.
    • Among 17-year-olds, licensure decreased from 69% to 45%.
    • Among 16-year-olds, having a driver’s license plummeted from 46% to only 24%.
    • Interestingly, the researchers also found a decline in Americans with driver’s licenses in older age groups, too, which they suggest may mean a permanent drop in driving.


Reasons for Decline

Researchers suggest several reasons for the decline in driver’s licenses across all ages, such as the cost of buying a car, busy schedules, and the popularity of ride-sharing services.

The University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute survey discovered that approximately 30% of 18- to 19-year-olds identify cost as being a top reason for not getting a driver’s license. Researchers also learned that teens who use social media are less likely to own or drive a car. Although the exact reason for this correlation is unclear, one researcher felt that modern teens who can connect electronically may feel less of a need for actual contact.

The AAA survey listed a number of reasons teens cited for delaying licensure, including:

  • 44% – Did not have a car
  • 39% – Could get around without driving
  • 36% – Gas was too expensive
  • 36% – Driving was too expensive
  • 35% – “Just didn’t get around to it”

The survey also showed interesting discrepancies among race and economic status. Low-income and minority teens are the least likely to obtain a driver’s license before age 18:

  • Only 25% of teens living in households with incomes less than $20,000 obtained their license before they turned 18, while 79% of teens were licensed by 18 in households with incomes of $100,000 or more.
  • While 67% of white teens obtained their license by 18, only 37% of African American teens and 29% of Hispanic teens had a license.


Concerns of Delay

Many safety experts are concerned with the delay in driver’s licenses because they fear young people will miss out on parental guidance and the Graduated Driver’s Licensing (GDL) program, which sets limits for driving teens such as the hours they can drive and how many other young people can be in the car with them. The GDL requirements help novice drivers to safely gain skills and experience and develop safe driving habits early. In fact, previous AAA research has found that states with comprehensive GDL systems have experienced a 38% decrease in fatal crashes involving 16-year-olds and a 40% reduction in injury crashes.

Final Thoughts…

To become fully independent, teenagers need a driver’s license. Even if a teen does not plan to drive frequently, having a driver’s license as a form of identification and developing the ability to safely drive a vehicle are important in leading to responsible adulthood. Parents should encourage their teens to develop their driving skills and obtain a license.

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