Decrease in number of teen drivers has a direct impact on road safety
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Sixteen-year-old Henry Stock is old enough to drive. Yet, he doesn’t see many reasons to get a driver’s license.
He can walk to stores near his home in Hollywood, Florida. If he really needs a ride, he can always call Uber or Lyft.
Stock did get a learner’s permit. However, so far he has racked up only a few of the 50 hours of supervised driving he needs to get a full license.
“It’s more time and effort than I want to put into something that won’t benefit me a lot right now,” Stock said.
Other teens see things the same way. The share of high school seniors across the country who have a driver’s license dropped from 85.3 percent in 1996 to a record low of 71.5 percent in 2015.
No Job, No Reason To Drive
There are several reasons for this decline. For one, the recession that began in 2009 made it much harder for many teens to find work. Without a job to got to, teens had much less need for driving.
More jobs have become available in the last few years as the recession has gradually ended. However, the number of high school seniors with a license has continued to decline.
Two things are most likely causing this continued drop. One is the set of tough new rules imposed on young drivers. The other is an explosion in ride-sharing services like Uber.
Whatever its causes, the drop in the number of teens behind the wheel seems to be having a direct effect on safety.
Teens Far More Likely To Be In Fatal Car Crashes
Drivers aged 16 to 19 are among the most dangerous on the road. They are three times more likely than older drivers to be in a fatal crash. But even as that teenage population increased by 2 million from 1996 to 2015, the number of teen drivers involved in fatal crashes fell by more than half.
Matt Moore is an expert on driving patterns. Moore says so-called graduated licenses have been most responsible for the long-term drop in the number of teen drivers. Such licenses require set periods of training and limit driving privileges at certain ages.
However, there are signs that the level of fatal accidents involving teens may not stay so low. The number of 16- to 19-year-old drivers involved in fatal accidents crept up in 2014 and again in 2015. That increase was the first since 2002.
Graduated Licensing Limits High-Risk Driving
What could be behind the rise? Some traffic safety analysts say licensed teens are driving more as the recession end and they get jobs. In addition, they say, more are getting licenses after they turn 18, when most states no longer require training for new drivers.
Every state now has some form of graduated licensing. The rules and restrictions vary, but most states limit driving activity seen as high-risk, such as driving at night or driving unsupervised with teen passengers.
Some teens are putting off getting licenses until they are old enough to avoid the graduated licensing process.
Andrew Bennett runs Nevada’s Zero Teen Fatalities program. He knows firsthand how hard it was to get through the state’s graduated licensing program. He waited until he was 18, five years ago, to avoid having to document the time spent driving while his parents supervised him.
“It was quite a bit of hassle just to lock down my parents’ time for 50 hours,” Bennett said.
Waiting Longer To Get A Driver's License
Bennett now volunteers with a high school band and sees many students arriving with parents, by bicycle or on public transportation — even though they are old enough to get a driver’s license. “Some consider it a hassle,” Bennett said. “For others it’s that they can’t afford insurance, so they just wait until they go to college or get a job.”
Ruth Shults is a safety expert working on ways to reduce the number of fatal car crashes. The fact that teens can avoid graduated licensing simply by waiting until they turn 18 could become a safety problem, she says. It could end up undoing some of the drop in highway death achieved so far.
It's Best To Learn Rules Of The Road From Parents
Once older teens leave home, they can no longer easily get driving help from their parents or older siblings, Shults says. They no longer have anyone to gradually introduce them to the rules of the road.
For that reason, the state governor's association has called for states to extend graduated licensing to age 21.
It can be harder for young drivers to pick up driving skills if they don’t learn to drive while they live with their parents. Their chances of "benefiting from the experience of a really expert driver" are greatly reduced once they leave home, Shults said.