Study Confirms Fewer Young People Getting Driver’s Licenses

Friday, July 20, 2012 - 04:42 PM

(Hover your mouse over the chart for more details)

Young people aren't lining up to drive like they used to. Year over year, fewer 16 to 24 year-olds are getting driver's licenses according to a new study released today by Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle of the University of Michigan's Transportation Research Institute.

Take 16 year-olds: In 2008, 31 percent of them got driver's licenses. In 2010 it fell to 28 percent. That's part of a steady trend the researchers track back to 1983. That's when Return of the Jedi, Scarface and The Outsiders were in theaters, and 46 percent of 16 year-olds were licensed to drive. Now, with Netflix and iTunes, they don't need wheels to get to the movies.

Take this response we received from a listener in Florida when our partner The Takeaway asked young people about their driving habits:
"I drive less because I have become a couch potato. The Internet takes me anywhere I want to go. And services like Netflix provide entertainment at the touch of a button. It’s also a lot more affordable."

The U. Mich study found that the driver's license drop was a bit sharper for older teens: the percentage fell five percent for 18 year-olds from 2008 to 2010. Using Census and Federal Highway Administration data, the researchers identified a general decline in the percentage of people who sign up for a driver's license across almost all age groups, but it was especially pronounced for younger would-be drivers.

Study author Michael Sivak explained to Transportation Nation what he thinks is driving the trend:

"We think that there are three main reasons for the reduced percentage of young persons with a driver's license:
  • Electronic communication reduces the need for actual contact (and some young people feel that driving interferes with texting)
  • Current economic downturn is making it more difficult for young persons to buy and maintain a vehicle
  • Young people are moving in increasing numbers to large cities with reasonable public transportation (e.g., New York and San Francisco)"

See the full study in the Journal of Traffic Injury Prevention.



Comments [7]


I cant drive since I got a green card. I have to take the whole test again even thought I have a UK license and have driven here. I dont drive because that is a complete scam.

Aug. 08 2013 11:50 AM

This isn't surprising at all. People in my parents' generation thought riding a bike or mass transit was the ultimate humiliation. My dad got a used '68 Chevelle the day he turned 17 so he would never have to take the bus to work. People don't think like that anymore. You can even take the bus to your girlfriend's house and it's cool.

Aug. 04 2012 02:29 AM

"Current economic downturn is making it more difficult for young persons to buy and maintain a vehicle"

To expand on this, youth unemployment has been on the rise.

"About 5.1 million, or just 29.6 percent, of 16-to-19 year olds were employed last summer. Adjusted for seasonal factors, the rate dips to 25.7 percent. In 1978, the share reached a peak of nearly 60 percent before waves of immigration brought in new low-skill workers. Teen employment remained generally above 50 percent until 2001, dropping sharply to fresh lows after each of the past two recessions.

Out of more than 3.5 million underutilized teens who languished in the job market last summer, 1.7 million were unemployed, nearly 700,000 worked fewer hours than desired and 1.1 million wanted jobs but had given up looking. That 3.5 million represented a teen underutilization rate of 44 percent, up from roughly 25 percent in 2000."

While I imagine affluent parents might pay for their teenager's automobile expenses, the only reason I had a car when I was a teen was because I had a job. If I didn't have a job, it was understood that I would not be driving.

Jul. 30 2012 12:27 AM

For a family like ours that has embraced a car free lifestyle and multi-modal transportation drivers liscencing would be an unecessary expense and hassle. I assume we will teach them to drive at a certain age but seems like there are better options especially for young people's safety.

Jul. 23 2012 05:13 PM

*live comedy show

Jul. 23 2012 12:14 PM

Oh good. Young people are such jerks- they cause most of the accidents. Please let us know if Michael Sivak has a life comedy show in the tri-state area ("...some young people feel that driving interferes with texting"). I'll drive to it.

Jul. 23 2012 11:48 AM

If I'm reading the chart right, 1 out of 5 people ages 20-24 do not have a license. We really need to redirect more highway money to mass transit asap.

Jul. 23 2012 09:42 AM

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