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Transportation Nation

Study Confirms Fewer Young People Getting Driver’s Licenses

Friday, July 20, 2012

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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.

 

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