Published January 27, 2014
A growing number of teenagers are waiting a considerable time to get their driver’s license after becoming eligible – a trend experts attribute to an array of societal and economic shifts ranging from the diminishing role of the automobile in the American psyche to the cost of gasoline.
The Orlando Sentinel cites a 2013 AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety study as saying only 44 percent of teenagers obtained their driver’s license within a year of reaching the minimum legal age in their respective states, while the number comparatively stood at 66 percent as late as 1993.
And a 2011 University of Michigan study reportedly showed that while almost half of 16-year-olds had a driver’s license 30 years ago, that number had fallen to fewer than a third by 2008.
"It looks like teens just can't afford to drive," Matt Moore said in announcing the results of a Highway Loss Data Institute study in October that reaffirmed the trend’s existence by examining vehicle insurance data.
"Paying for their own cars, gas and insurance is hard if they can't find a job."
But other experts peg the decline to less obvious factors, like demographic shifts from suburbia to urban areas, which typically have more mass transit options that diminish the need for a car, as well as technological advances that facilitate communication and offer spending alternatives.
“Young folks would rather spend their money on an iPhone than a car," Prof. Bruce Stephenson, director of the Planning in Civic Urbanism masters program at Rollins College told the Sentinel. "The car is not the status symbol it once was. It's just not a high priority."
"They have another way (to communicate)," reportedly added Michele Harris, director of traffic-safety culture at the AAA Auto Club South in Tampa. "Before, you needed that car to be with your friends."
Meanwhile, Glenn Victor, a director at the Florida Safety Council in Orlando, told the Sentinel he blamed the trend on years of frightening ads and teaching about the dangers of drunken driving.
"It's drilled into them," Victor reportedly said. "We scare the bejeebers out of them."