Young Adults: We're Just Too Busy to Get Driver's Licenses, Says Survey

Tuesday, August 06, 2013 - 12:14 PM


Kids today: they just don't drive like they used to. There's been speculation as to what's behind the national decline in driving. Now, a new survey asked hundreds of unlicensed people just why they're not queuing up at the DMV. Here's what they said.

The University of Michigan's Transportation Research Institute surveyed over 600 young adults (ages 18-39) who don't have driver's licenses. According to the responses, the top reason given was: "too busy or not enough time to get a driver’s license" (27 percent). (Study)

Being busy not only doesn't require driving, but inhibits driving for the young people in this survey. 

The next most common answer: "the cost or owning a vehicle and maintaining a vehicle is too expensive" (15 percent) and "able to get transportation from others" (12 percent). 

A whopping 22 percent—again, this is a sample made up exclusively of people without a license—said they plan to never get a driver's license. 

This group was especially likely to be unemployed: 45.8 percent of them are out of work, compared to a 10.5 percent unemployment rate in the general population of 16 to 34 year-olds.

If so-called millienials are living at home longer, and they are having a tough time finding a job, it makes sense that they'd balk at the cost of buying a car. But that doesn't explain why the top answer was "we're too busy."

Eleven total options were offered as reasons for not getting a drivers license. In addition to the above, the other reasons ranged from medical problems and legal issues on up to preferring biking, walking and public transportation over driving—which when added together was the choice of almost 15 percent of those surveyed. 

Only one of the options dealt with technology, and even that only with respect to work: "able to communicate and/or conduct business online instead." That means one of the more compelling theories for why transit is more popular among young people wasn't really captured in this survey: using smart phones and socializing online. 

Previous studies have found far lower rates of young people applying for driver's licenses in this generation of teens than in previous ones. The same authors of this study have previously reported there is correlation between higher rates of internet users and lower rates of driving. The more of life we live online, the less we need to drive. And the more addicted we are to our phones, the more convenient riding the bus is over driving yourself.  

A study last year by the Frontier Group and U.S. PIRG found that young people like transit a whole lot more than the generations before them, with ridership rates up about 40 percent per capita for 16 to 34 year-olds since 2001. 

That study found:

"Young people are driving less for a host of reasons—higher gas prices, new licensing laws, improvements in technology that support alternative transportation, and changes in Generation Y’s values and preferences." (Note: "Young people" in this study refers to 16 to 34 year-olds, so it also includes what most people refer to as Millenials.)

A follow up study from U.S. PIRG found: 

"Millennials are more likely to want to live in urban and walkable neigh­borhoods and are more open to non-driving forms of transportation than older Americans. They are also the first generation to fully embrace mobile Internet-connected technolo­gies, which are rapidly spawning new transportation options." 

The cool kids today would rather ride the bus while texting their girlfriend, or arrange a carpool through new apps and leave the hassle of the DMV for another time. 

And this is a trend AAA says is worrisome, citing graduated drivers license rules -- which are pegged to age -- in the learning-to-drive process. AAA says "these requirements help novice drivers safely gain the skills and experience needed to become safe adult drivers."

"There's a segment of this generation missing opportunities to learn under the safeguards that GDL provides," said Peter Kissinger, the president of the AAA Foundation for Traffic safety, adding that getting licensed "has traditionally been considered to be a rite of passage."




Comments [17]

Brooke from Australia

To those not believing the 'I'm too busy' answer - in Australia it takes 3 stages and a total of 48 months to get a full license. In the learner stage (first stage) you have to do 120 hours under specific different road conditions with an accompanying full licensed driver. I have had the time to get the license but honestly see no point if I know I can't jump through those hoops at this point in time. Not everyone has parents who can give up hours every weekend to accompany you, and not everyone has the time to do it themselves either if your working or studying full time. Previous generations have not has such in depth processes to getting their license which Is probably why the rate has gone up for young adults without licenses.

Aug. 05 2014 10:11 AM
Heather from Wisconsin

To those not believing the "too busy" reason - when I was in high school I *was* too busy. Driver's ed was a half semester course that people in their sophomore or junior year gave up study hall for in order to take. I never had a study hall to give up because I was taking too many electives. In college, I walked everywhere or took the bus. It wasn't worth the financial investment, parking alone is crazy expensive and with your tuition came a free bus pass. Now that I'm married and planning a family it's finally become a worthwhile endeavor. It wasn't really a necessity before now and I genuinely did not have the time or money to devote to driving a car.

May. 29 2014 02:32 PM
JerryStirkey from Carlisle, PA

I understand, 100%, why inner city youth don't see a reason to get a driver's license. They have access to effective public transit and finding / paying for parking in ANY city is murderous.

But this whole bit of being "too busy" or "my phone is more important" is simply PATHETIC. This Smart Phone generation is really beginning to annoy me! I'm 34 if anyone wants to know.

If you're a young man and can't see the value in being able to scoop your young girl, IN A CAR, so that you can go experience life, GET A GRIP. If you're a young man and you've never wanted to pickup your boys and go raise a little hell, GET A GRIP.

These kids are becoming really odd & lame. Anyone witnessed teens on a school bus lately? They look like zombies; eyes glazed, staring at either a Smart Phone or an iPod. What ever happened to everyone listening to the same lame FM station that the bus driver chose? What ever happened to being social and pushing the behavior envelope before arriving at school? What ever happened to basic human interaction?

I may be coming-off as a dinosaur here but I'll own that. I am GENUINELY concerned about where this Smart Phone generation is going in life. I'm confident, that without even the interest in automotive freedom, it won't be very far or interesting ...

Aug. 22 2013 02:24 PM
cnguyenjones from Queens, NY

Germany is 137,847 sq mi and Montana is 147,042 sq mi. Matthias stated that Germans tend not to use cars as much as public transport. Montanans typically learn how to drive cars before they turn 18. Different culture + different geography = different transport needs.
Metropolitan and coastal city residents typically don't require the use of their own motor vehicles as much as people who live more inland. If you live 5-10 hours from the nearest big city, you will need a car.
The decline in youths who do not have driver's licenses compared to the same demographic who had licenses about 10 years ago is due to something else other than just geography.

Aug. 10 2013 03:01 PM
Natl ID Card

I am glad that people are not bothering to get a driver's license if they are not driving a vehicle.

The BIG problem with that is now we must create a national ID card with picture, so we have everyone identified. Security measure to say the least.

I'll call my representatives to ask about such a program. We need it NOW.

Aug. 09 2013 03:14 PM
Matthias from New York, NY

...getting licensed "has traditionally been considered to be a rite of passage."

This cultural phenomenon has run its course. Teenagers in countries such as Holland and Germany, which have good public transport and cycling infrastructure, do not understand this "rite of passage" mentality as they can get around independently from a young age. More travel options and connectivity mean that American kids no longer feel trapped until they can drive.

Aug. 08 2013 03:28 PM
Joyce from Queens

Why would the survey classify anyone over 30 as a "young adult?"
The time factor is not only is the issue of the learning driver but the licensed driver who takes the the learner out to practice. Not everyone has money to pay for lessons.

Aug. 08 2013 01:48 PM
Ursula from Brooklyn

If the number of applications for drivers licenses are down, why is it nearly impossible to get an appointment for a road test in NYC?

Aug. 08 2013 11:14 AM

Richard The data on fewer young people getting driver's licenses is here.

"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."

I'll add a link in the post. Thanks.

Aug. 07 2013 05:23 PM
Yongho Kim from Los Angeles, CA

One big factor for people of color could have been "I am undocumented, and because of my immigration status I can't apply for one". That would have been an important chunk of the "other" type responses.

Aug. 07 2013 04:46 PM
TOM from Brooklyn

45% of 18-29 year-old's sample out-of-work! You got to find yourself a better class of samples.
People in their twenties doing their sidewalk act and talking to you are reflecting their embarrassment.

Aug. 07 2013 02:26 PM
Richard Tanzer from Neenah, Wisconsin

There is nothing in this article to indicate that kids today are less likely to get drivers licenses than in years past. The U. Mich survey of 618 people aged 16 to 34 without driver's licenses. This was not a longitudinal study, nor is there any indication that historical data were examined.

Aug. 07 2013 12:25 PM

Thanks for noting this. In my son's high school senior class ( all boys ) 75% weren't "bothering" to get the license. Factors : urban area, prohibitively high auto insurance rates for young males, and frankly no money for a car (no jobs). PATH from NJ to NYC is $2. Parking in NYC $30. Economic indicator for sure and just plain makes sense!

Aug. 07 2013 11:52 AM
Tom from New Jersey

So a segment of the population nearly five times as likely to be unemployed as their peers can't find the time to get a driver's license? I think this study suggests that the meaning of "busy" has changed. I'm not sure it contributes much to our understanding of the national decline in driving.

Aug. 07 2013 11:47 AM
Elephi P. from Nyack, NY

It seems you also missed out on an important answer -- anxiety. Although you have "disability/medical problems", that category doesn't really fit, and the truth is, most people who are deep down, afraid to learn to drive would rather say "I'm too busy" or "it's too expensive" rather than admit they are too nervous and scared to pass their test, or even get behind the wheel.

Given that this particular generation has had their behavior more pathologized and medicalized than any generation before them, it seems likely to me that a great many have internalized the idea that maybe they are too anxious/impulsive/unfocused/unstable/or just generally unable to handle a motor vehicle without hurting themselves or someone else. Especially since, with live player video games and internet and Netflix, who really needs to leave the house anyway?

Aug. 07 2013 11:26 AM

I guess you could always use the GDL system regardless of age. A newly licensed driver could have the restriction for a legnth of time just like any other new younger driver

Aug. 07 2013 11:23 AM
Truth & Beauty from Brooklyn

This is hard to believe. When I was a teenager, we ALL couldn't wait to get our licenses. It was a badge of honor. Notwithstanding that not every kid's parents bought him/her a car immediately upon receipt of the license, it was still something we did. And parents got relieved of some carpool duty when older siblings could start driving younger ones to and from after school activities.

By the way, it interested me to see that so many of the unemployed say that they never want to get a driver's license, especially as driving is a skill that may make them employable. Any skill that an unemployed person adds to his/her repertoire is a good thing and driving is right on up there. Some driving jobs pay really well, too. Never say never.

Aug. 07 2013 10:53 AM

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