Barely half of teenagers have a driver’s license by the time they turn 18, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety reports today, compared with more than two-thirds in the early 1990s.
The nonprofit researcher says its survey of 1,039 young adults age 18 to 20 found much less urgency to get behind the wheel.
Those who delayed a license gave a list of possible reasons -- they didn’t have a car, the expense, they got around fine without a license, or they kept in touch over social media -- but only a small number cited tighter restrictions around teen licensing.
Researchers say delayed licensure means more inexperienced drivers hitting the road without the benefit of graduated driver’s license (GDL) training.
“There’s a segment of this generation missing opportunities to learn under the safeguards that GDL provides,” says Peter Kissinger, president and CEO of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.
GDL programs in force in most states put limits on teen drivers, restricting when and with whom they can drive. Their introduction has corresponded with a dramatic drop in teen traffic deaths.
Young adults over the age of 18 can get a license without the restrictions.
Eventually, the survey found, most young adults want to drive; 76 percent of the 20-year-olds surveyed had a license. Among the 18- to 20-year-olds surveyed, licensing rates were markedly higher in the Midwest, at 82 percent, than in the Northeast (64 percent), South (68 percent) or West (71 percent).
Nationwide, more than 90 percent of people between ages 40 and 44 are licensed, according to the Federal Highway Administration.
Does waiting save you money?
A third of the young adults surveyed cited the expenses of a car and driving as reasons for their delay. Many, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety notes, specifically called out the cost of car insurance.
One benefit of waiting to drive might be lower car insurance bills. Age is a rating factor for most car insurance companies, with 16-year-olds paying a steep surcharge, a 17-year-old a bit less, and so on, until the driver qualifies for standard rates.
But inexperience carries a penalty as well, and those who wait to drive still face an added cost, though not quite as great. (See “Will waiting to drive cut your rates?”)
Most drivers will pay standard rates by the time they turn 25; other factors that reassure car insurance risk analysts, such as a good credit score, a college degree, marriage and homeownership, begin to come into play as well. (See “The cheapest age for car insurance.”)