Are fewer teens interested in driving?

One in three teenagers is 'just not interested' in driving, a new study says. While 20 years ago, more than two-thirds of teens obtained their driver's license before the age of 18, today, only 44 percent of teens have their licenses within their first 12 months of eligibility.

Robert Harbison/The Christian Science Monitor/File
Sixteen-year-old Amarveer Brar drives home from high school with his friend Roger Gorog in 2002. Fewer teens are expressing interest in getting their driver's licenses, a new study says.

Less than half of all American teenagers get their first driver's license within a year of becoming eligible to drive, a new study from AAA says.

In stark contrast to 20 years ago, when more than two-thirds of teens got their driver’s license before they turned 18, only 44 percent of today's teens have their first licenses within 12 months of eligibility, according to a new study from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

The delay of the traditional rite of passage extends even further. The study suggests only 54 percent of teens are obtaining their license before their 18th birthday.

The AAA finds this troubling, saying that teens are missing out on the intended benefits of state graduated licensing laws (GDLs).

In a press release announcing the findings, Peter Kissinger, President and CEO, AAA Foundation for Traffic Study said that one in three teens who delay getting their license until they turn 18 are foregoing opportunities to learn safeguards that GDL provides.

“For most, it’s about not having a car or having alternatives to getting around,” Kissinger said.

"Just not very interested" in driving

Unexpectedly, most teens surveyed aren’t holding off on a driver’s license merely to avoid going through graduated driver licensing. The top ten reasons cited for delaying include:

  • Did not have a car – 44 percent
  • Could get around without driving – 39 percent
  • Gas was too expensive – 36 percent
  • Driving was too expensive – 36 percent
  • “Just didn’t get around to it” – 35 percent
  • Could do what I wanted to do without driving – 32 percent
  • Was nervous about driving – 30 percent
  • Just not very interested in driving – 29 percent
  • Had to complete driver education course first – 28 percent
  • Getting a license was too expensive – 26 percent

The study also revealed large social and economic disparities in licensing: young people who described themselves as black or Hispanic, or were from low-income households, were much less likely than other respondents to have been licensed before age 18.

Opinions about driver licensing policies

Teens surveyed showed surprising opinions about driver licensing, with 77 percent supporting restrictions on novice drivers carrying teen passengers (12 percent say zero should be allowed; 32 percent say one), and 77 percent supporting night-time driving restrictions (51 percent say these should start at 10 p.m. or earlier).

In addition, 28 percent of teens said they support requiring all new drivers, regardless of age, to first obtain a restricted license.

Nearly all, 96 percent, believe age 16 is the youngest a teen should be permitted to get a license that allows independent driving; more than half, 58 percent, say it should be 17.

The AAA concludes that, given the large proportion of drivers who do not become licensed until after they turn 18, “further research is needed to investigate the safety impact of obtaining a license at older vs. younger ages as well as to identify specific risk factors for older novice drivers and ways to address them.”

View the full research report and survey results here (PDF).

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