AAA Foundation Study looks at why teens are delaying rite of passage.
According to a new study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, the majority of American teens today delay getting a driver’s license. Less than half (44 percent) of teens obtain a driver’s license within 12 months of the minimum age for licensing in their state and just over half (54 percent) are licensed before their 18th birthday, causing concern among safety experts that teen drivers are missing the benefits intended by graduated drivers licensing (GDL). 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.
"With one in three teens waiting to get their license until they turn 18, there’s a segment of this generation missing opportunities to learn under the safeguards that GDL provides," said Ragina C. Averella, Public and Government Affairs Manager for AAA Mid-Atlantic. "For most, the primary reasons cited for delaying the traditional rite of passage, were having other alternatives for getting around and not having a car."
Contrary to some expectations, survey results suggest that few teens wait until 18 simply to avoid graduated driver licensing requirements. Instead, a number of other reasons for delaying licensure were cited, including:
· 44 percent - Did not have a car
· 39 percent - Could get around without driving
· 36 percent - Gas was too expensive
· 36 percent - Driving was too expensive
· 35 percent - "Just didn’t get around to it"
Low-income and minority 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 age 18 in households with incomes of $100,000 or more. The findings for licensure by age 18 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.
"In many instances, it boils down to simple economics. Meeting the necessary driver’s education requirements to obtain a license can be an expensive venture, particularly for low-income teens," Averella said. Driver’s education classes in public schools, once the primary method of teaching novice drivers to drive, are now a thing of the past. Teens must now enroll in private-sector driving schools to complete their driver’s education requirements, which can create a financial burden on families, particularly in a recovering economy.
In Maryland , the cost of in-class and in-car driving lessons can range from $240 to almost $500. Other costs that would-be teen drivers face include purchasing and maintaining a car, insurance, and the rising cost of gasoline. "Driving is expensive these days, especially if you are a teen," the spokeswoman added.
AAA has worked for nearly two decades to recommend that all states adopt and enforce a comprehensive three-stage (learner’s permit, intermediate/probationary license, full/unrestricted license) graduated driver licensing (GDL) system for novice teen drivers. These programs require minimum holding periods and practice requirements for teens with learner’s permits, followed by restricted licenses that limit driving at night or with peer passengers. These requirements help novice drivers safely gain the skills and experience needed to become safe adult drivers.
Researchers and policymakers should examine whether existing state GDL systems - nearly all of which end once a teen turns 18 - can be modified to improve safety for these young adult novice drivers.
Previous AAA Foundation research found that states with comprehensive GDL systems have experienced a 38 percent decrease in fatal crashes involving 16 year-olds and a 40 percent reduction in injury crashes. For additional information about graduated driver licensing laws in your state, visit http://www.aaa.com/TeenDriving .
The researchers surveyed a nationally-representative sample of 1,039 respondents ages 18-20. The full research report and survey results can be found on the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety website .