Why don’t teenagers drive any more?

I got my driver’s license on my 16th birthday. I liked to be able to drive places when I needed to, but I was happy to let my friends do the driving if they wanted to. I didn’t do a whole lot of driving until I bought my first car at age 21 (and I’m still driving it – here is a link to a blog post about my car).

An article in the Atlantic summarized the percentage of people in the US who have drivers licenses by age in 1983, 2008, and 2010. The real surprise was the change that occurred between 1983 and 2008. Here, we see that many fewer young people (aged 34 and younger) had drivers licenses in 1983 than in 1983, and many people aged 55+ had licenses in 2008 than in 1983.

I posted this to twitter and google+ and received quite a bit of feedback.  I was surprised that fewer teenagers would drive. Here are some reasons why more or less teenagers would be willing to drive. I apologize in advance for the stereotypes of teenagers and their parents: these generalizations are not meant to hold on the individual level (of course!)

Reasons why fewer teenagers would have licenses today than in 1983

  1. The Internet has eroded reasons why teenagers need to drive, since they can shop online and communicate with their friends online.
  2. Everyone owns a car, so there are other people to give teenagers rides.
  3. Parents like to “helicopter” and taxi their kids around.
  4. Laws in some states restrict teenagers from giving their friends rides.
  5. People have smaller families today, so teenagers do not need to taxi siblings around as much.
  6. Students are not as independent as they once were (not sure if that is true).
  7. Teenagers are “buddies” with their parents and do not feel the need to escape from home to study, for example.
  8. The teenage right of passage to be caught doing something embarrassing on FaceBook has displaced the right of passage of getting a drivers license.

Reasons why more teenagers would have licenses today than in 1983

  1. More live in surburban neighborhoods where “destinations” are not within walking distance. The suburban model of building shopping centers with giant parking lots in the middle of nowhere are commonplace.
  2. Students are more active in student activities and need to get to and fro.
  3. People own more cars today, so teenagers have more of an opportunity to drive.
  4. Public transportation hasn’t gotten better since 1983.

The reasons for more teen driving seem to be quite compelling to me, but clearly, they do not overwhelm the reasons why teenagers do not drive. What other reasons may teenagers have for not wanting to drive?

6 responses to “Why don’t teenagers drive any more?

  • prubin73

    Is there data to back up the assertion that a higher percentage of teens l, ive in the burbs (v. cities) than in ’83? I had the impression the trend went the other way.

    Also, did the survey include teens in the country illegally (who cannot get a license)?

  • Laura McLay

    Paul, I am not sure about your question about the burbs. It’s hard to say what the “burbs” are to begin with, and their form has certainly changed over time. Many of the suburban neighborhoods built in the 90s and 00s are not very connected, which are different than the suburban neighborhoods that the 1983 teenagers grew up in. The surburbs are just starting to wilt: http://articles.nydailynews.com/2012-04-05/news/31296431_1_housing-index-housing-bubble-exurbs

    As for illegals, it looks like they were probably not included. The study used data from the Census Bureau at the Federal Highway Administration.

  • Peg

    Compare the cost of driving today to what it cost in1983. My dd (age 18) & many of her friends don’t drive because they can’t afford to. The economy has forced adults into jobs that were filled by teens when I was growing up and she & her friends (ages 16-23!) are realistic about the true costs of owning a car.

  • Alan Ridgeway

    Have you considered that states like California no longer gives a drivers license at age 16 ?

    I pity the teens in my state for that. Driving at 16 was such a freeing experience.

  • AfterMath

    It could be the sample set. I’d be curious about a year like 2005 or so, before the recession. Because coming of age in the recession could be a factor, maybe the family didn’t have a car – or not a car for the teenager to drive.

  • Laura McLay

    @Alan: I don’t think this does take that into account. There are so many people in CA that that fact could explain most of the gap here. In my motherland (Illinois), I think that there is a ban on giving your friends a ride until age 18. That certainly diminishes the need for a license.

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