There was a time when getting your learner’s permit was the most exciting part about turning 15 or 16 years old. From driver’s education classes, and driving lessons, to the driving test, being a licensed driver was a significant marker of taking a step into adulthood. However, in recent years this trend has changed. The number of teens with a drivers license has significantly decreased.
Recent data from The Federal Highway Administration (FHA) of the U.S. Department of Transportation indicates a decline in teen drivers throughout the years. Even with a slight increase in 2019, the number of minor motorists with driver’s licenses plummeted by nearly 50%.
Data for Young Drivers
In 2019, there were 228.7 million licensed drivers in the United States, and young drivers accounted for 12.0 million. Percentage of drivers sorted by age group and year according to FHA data:
- Age group: 16
- 1983: 46.2%
- 2008: 31.1%
- 2019: 25.1%
- Age group: 18
- 1983: 80.4%
- 2008: 65.4%
- 2019: 58.0%
- Age group: 20 to 24
- 1983: 91.8%
- 2008: 82.0%
- 2019: 79.9%
- Age group: 35 to 39
- 1983: 94.9%
- 2008: 91.7%
- 2019: 90.8%
According to this data, about one-in-two of all 16-year-old teens in America had a driver’s license in 1983. Jump forward to 2019, and only one in four have a driver’s license.
What is Causing the Drop in Teenage Drivers?
America is certainly a car culture – or a motorcycle culture in some places. It can be challenging to find a job, attend higher education, and just get around town in most corners of the country without a motor vehicle and driver’s license. If being legally allowed to drive a car is so important, then why are fewer teens going through the DMV process to get a license?
There are a few theories as to why teens are less likely to drive today:
When wondering why a popular trend fades away, a good statistical starting point is to examine the economy as a whole. Families today need to be careful where they spend their income, more so than in the early 80s. Spending money to get a car for a 16-year-old teen is not possible for many families, so the drop in young drivers is not entirely surprising.
The data regarding the other age groups also support this theory. In 2018, adult drivers between 35 and 39 dropped 4%, which is a significant number when considering how many adult drivers there are and how many of them really need an automobile in their day-to-day lives.
Teenagers might also be putting “get a driver’s license” on the backburner because of the advent of ridesharing apps. For only a few dollars, groups of teens can get rides to and from popular hangouts, like the mall or a concert. The cost split among them all makes using ridesharing even more affordable. Rather than going through the trouble to get a car and license without much necessity for either, teens have the choice to wait a bit longer without sacrificing mobility.
The laws regulating drivers have increased in strictness across the decades, especially when considering younger drivers. For example, teens today need to worry about getting ticketed or losing their driver’s license just for looking at their cellphone while behind the wheel, a problem that wasn’t even fathomable in 1983. A teen who could get a car and driver’s license might decide against it simply to avoid the stresses of traffic law until they absolutely need a vehicle.
While there are many reasons why fewer teens are getting their driver’s licenses, it’s clear that this trend impacts the way we get around. As more and more teens rely on ride-sharing apps and public transportation, we may continue to see a decrease in the number of cars on the road.
Young Motorists and Fatal Accidents
In 2019, about 205,000 young drivers were injured in traffic crashes, and young drivers accounted for 7.8% of all drivers involved in fatal crashes, yet they only accounted for 5.3% of all licensed drivers in 2019. While that doesn’t seem like many teenage drivers on the surface, it is actually several million motorists.
Even with a required year of a learners permit and supervised driving, teens have less knowledge about the rules of the road, understand less about how to control a vehicle in an emergency, and tend to be more distracted by smartphones when compared to older drivers. In other words, teenage drivers can inadvertently be a hazard on the road due to their young age and lack of experience.
(You can learn more about the FHA research and data by clicking here)
What to Do After an Accident With a Teen Driver
If you get hit by a teenage driver, you should treat the car accident or motorcycle accident like any other crash. Collect contact information and evidence of liability before calling an attorney and seeing the doctor.
A big part of being a driver on shared roadways is learning to drive safely and responsibly. You should not “go easy” on a teen driver because they did not know any better, as they may plead with you to do. By bringing a claim against the teen driver that caused your accident, you could be teaching them an important lesson that encourages them to become better, safer driver.