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Study: Fewer Teens Driving, Little Impact on Safety

Today's teenagers are choosing to delay a traditional teenage rite of passage: getting their driver's licenses. According to a recent study conducted by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, the percentage of 16-year-olds having a driver's license decreased from 46% in 1983 to 31% in 2008.

The decline of teen driving is not just a trend among younger teens; older teens are driving less. The number of 18-year-olds with licenses dropped from 80 percent in 1983 to 65 percent in 2008. There is a similar trend among 17-year-olds: the number of driver's licenses in that age group dropped from 69 to 50 percent in 1983 and 2008 respectively.

Many Reasons for the Decline

There are numerous financial and personal reasons why teenagers, both younger and older, are shunning their driving privileges. For starters, adding a teen driver to an automobile insurance policy can be expensive, so some parents are encouraging their teen children to delay getting their licenses.

In addition, the expenses involved with learning how to drive such as drivers education classes, gas and the cost of a car itself factor into teens' decision to take up driving.

Finally, the impact of social media and the Internet is another explanation. As teens today prefer electronic communication to actual contact with people, they no longer feel the need to learn how to drive an automobile in order to visit and connect with their friends.

Effect on Safety

One might think that fewer teen drivers on the road would make the roads safer. However, recent studies say that this is not the case. Every state has a graduated driver licensing (GDL) program where a 16 or 17-year-old driver must pass through a supervised learners state and an intermediate state with restricted driving privileges before he or she can drive unrestricted.

The studies suggest that since teens are delaying getting their licenses until they are at an age where they don't have to undergo a GDL program, they are simply having car accidents at a later age. The studies show that since GDL programs were put in place in the 1990s, there has been a decrease in accidents involving 16-year-old drivers. However, the study also found that this decrease was balanced by a roughly equal increase in car accidents involving 18-year-old drivers.

Source: "Why Your Teen Does Not Want to Drive," Fox News, 1/15/12

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