Half of Eligible Teenagers Delay Drivers License, Study Finds

In an unexpected sign of the times, about half of the teenagers in the U.S. who are old enough to obtain a drivers license are waiting to do so, according to a new survey.  The most common reasons cited for delayed licensure were not having a car, being able to get around without driving, and costs associated with driving.

The study, by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, found that less than half (44 percent) of teens obtain a driver’s license within 12 months of the minimum age for licensing and just over half (54 percent) are licensed before their 18th birthday. These findings mark a significant drop from two decades ago when data showed more than two-thirds of teens were licensed by the time they turned 18, accordidelayed licenseng to AAA.

The report found “Large social and economic disparities in licensing rates and in the timing of licensure.” Low-income, African-American and Hispanic teens are the least likely to obtain a driver’s license before age 18.

Only 25 percent of teens living in households with incomes less than $20,000 obtained their license before they turned 18, while 79 percent of teens were licensed by their 18th birthday in households with incomes of $100,000 or more.

 The findings for licensure by age 18 also differed significantly by race and ethnicity, with 67 percent for non-Hispanic white teens, 37 percent for non-Hispanic black teens, and 29 percent for Hispanic teens.

Some had suggested that teens were waiting simply to avoid graduated driver’s licensing (GDL), missing both the limitations and benefits of the laws, which vary across states, aimed at improving new driver training and safety, and causing some concern.  The survey, however, did not find this to be a prominent reason in delayed licensing.  A number of other reasons for delaying licensure were cited, including:

  • 44 %– Did not have a car
  • 39 % – Could get around without driving
  • 36 %– Gas was too expensive
  • 36 % – Driving was too expensive
  • 35 % – Just didn’t get around to it

Many states impose the GDL restrictions only for new drivers younger than 18.  The AAA report indicated that “Given the  large proportion of new drivers who are 18 years old or older, further research is needed to investigate their levels of safety or risk, to evaluate the potential impacts of extending GDL systems to new drivers aged 18 and older, and to explore other ways to address the needs of older novice drivers.”

In Connecticut, anyone 18 years of age or older must hold an adult learner’s permit for 3 months before obtaining a driver's license.  The state Department of Motor Vehicles website outlines the procedures in Connecticut, which have been revised as recently as January 2013 based on new laws approved by the state legislature.

The proportion of teens who were licensed varied strongly by geographic region, the AAA study found: licensing rates were much higher in the Midwest (82%) than in the Northeast (64%), South (68%), or West (71%).

The study did not discern major variations by gender among teens.  Although males were slightly more likely than females to obtain a license within six months of their state’s minimum age (33% vs. 28%), females were actually slightly more likely than males to obtain a license within 1-2 months of their state’s minimum age.

The researchers surveyed a nationally-representative sample of 1,039 respondents ages 18-20. The full research report and results are available on the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety website.

New Video Seeks to Improve Teen Driving Safety, Recalls Tragic Death of West Hartford Teen

Kohl's Tween Safe Program is currently focusing on the dangers inherent in teen driving.  The  program's website features a new video with the father and sister of  Reid Hollister, a 17-year-old West Hartford resident who was killed in a one-car accident in 2006.  The video, prepared in association with the Connecticut Children's Medical Center,  aims to alert teens and parents to the realities and risks of teen driving.

Reid’s father, Tim Hollister, became a leading advocate for better-informed parental decision-making about teen driving in the months after Reid’s tragic death.  He was a leading member of the Governor’s Safe Teen Driving Task Force in 2007-8, which led to legisReid websitelative passage of a series of stringent laws in Connecticut, including graduated teen  licenses, to lessen the risks of car crashes involving teens.

The short video, with Reid’s dad and sister on camera recounting discussing Reid’s life, and the circumstances surrounding his death, are the featured subject on Kohl’s Tween Safe website, and excerpts of their comments, along with noteworthy statistics, are also be telecast on local television stations as a public service announcement.

Tim Hollister’s blog, "From Reid's Dad," was launched in September 2009 and has been recognized by the U.S. Department of Transportation/National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Public Service Award, April 2010, for "extraordinary efforts to assist parents in making informed decisions about safe teen driving." The site includes a model teen driving agreement for teens and parents, available for download. and helpful information and suggestions regarding teen driving and parental decision-making.

The Injury Prevention Center at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, in partnership with Kohl’s Cares®, has launched Kohl’s Tween Safe, a website and public information initiative to provide information aimed at preventing all types of injuries. The goal is to share the latest news and research to enable tweens, parents and coaches to make informed decisions.

On December 2, 2006, 17-year-old Reid Hollister, died after a one car accident.  He was driving on a three-lane Interstate highway (I-84 in Plainville) that he likely had not driven before, on a dark night just after rain had stopped, and apparently traveling above the speed limit, “he went too far into a curve before turning, then overcorrected, and went into a spin.” As the blog describes it, “While the physics of the moment could have resulted in any number of trajectories, his car hit the point of a guardrail precisely at the middle of the driver's-side door, which crushed the left-side of his chest.”

Among the statistics highlighted on the site:

  • Safer teen driving starts with informed, conservative decisions about whether teens get behind the wheel of a car in the first place. Teaching teens to operate a vehicle safely is Step 2.
  • Driving is the leading cause of death for people under age 20 in the United States.
  • Safer teen driving is everyone's concern. In 2010, nearly 2,000 teen drivers died, but their crashes killed more than 3,000 passengers, other drivers, and pedestrians.

The video featured on the Kohl’s website was recorded recently when Connecticut Children’s Medical Center approached the Hollister family about making a video about Reid’s story, for teen drivers and their parents.

Earlier this year, the blog reported the following:  “The Governors’ Highway Safety Administration has issued a new report, New Study: Teen Driver Deaths Increase in 2012 (Feb. 26, 2013), based on preliminary fatality statistics for 2012, and the key finding should send a big shiver up our collective national spine:  after years of decline, deaths of 16 and 17 year old drivers increased in the first six months of last year. From 2011 to 2012, the national number of 16 year old driver deaths increased from 86 to 107 and the number of 17 year old deaths from 116 to 133.”