10 Big Transportation Ideas: Why Teens Are Driving Less

My nephew, Parker J. Maynard, a 2013 graduate of Novi High School in Michigan.

My nephew, Parker J. Maynard, a 2013 graduate of Novi High School in Michigan.

By Micheline Maynard

I got my license the fall that I turned 16. I took driver’s ed from my high school during the summer, practiced a bit with my family, and then went down for my driving test. Voila! I was licensed to drive.

That was back in the 20th century, and getting a license isn’t that easy for many teens. For one thing, schools are by and large out of the driver’s ed business. And, many teens aren’t motivated to get their licenses, at least not the moment they are eligible. That’s one of the 10 big ideas we’re exploring at Curbing Cars. (See our previous story here.)

The latest statistics show that only 28 percent of 16-year-olds have their licenses. That’s down from 46 percent in 1983, according to federal state and an analysis by the University of Michigan.

The numbers go up after high school graduation. About 70 percent of 19-year-olds have their licenses. But that’s still down from 87 percent in 1983.

This is a factor in why driving is down for the overall population, one of the major issues we are studying at Curbing Cars.

There is a variety of reasons why, but here are the three biggest ones.

  • Changes in state driving laws. Prompted by fears over teen crashes, and especially when teens were drinking, a number of states tightened restrictions on getting licenses. Some don’t allow teens alone in a car until they are 18. Others require teens to drive a number of hours with an adult before they can get their full license.
  • The economy. Cars are expensive, and teens are finding it harder than ever to get jobs. The rise in gas prices to the $4 range eats into a teen’s budget. Insurance, even if it’s on a parent’s policy, costs a lot, and the economy has affected parents significantly, too. Instead, teens rely on their bikes, the bus and skateboards, or they walk places.
  • Social trends. In previous generations, teens needed cars to escape from their parents. Now, all they have to do is put on headphones and log into a mobile device. Meanwhile, helicopter parents are all too willing to drive teens where they want to go, rather than risk having them out on the road. And, it’s much cooler to make a video or mix a playlist than to be out driving nowhere.

There are plenty of teens who love to drive (check out our friends at Jalopnik for proof). But the disinterest in driving among people under 20 is a reason for the overall drop in driving, and that will have long-lasting effects.

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