A growing trend is emerging among teens turning 16: many are choosing not to get a driver’s license immediately.
A study by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute found that only about a quarter of 16-year-olds had a driver’s license in 2014, a 50% decline from 1983.
Environmental concerns and the rising costs of car ownership might influence such decisions. Biking, public transportation, and ride-sharing apps like Uber and Lyft provide affordable and convenient alternatives.
Why they’re not driving
Peer influence plays a significant role in teen decision-making, as Sarah-Jayne Blackmore noted in her TED Talk on the teenage brain. If their friends aren’t driving, there’s less pressure to get a license.
Another pressing reason is anxiety. About 8% of children and teens experience an anxiety disorder, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Anxiety plays a role in some teens’ decisions to delay getting licenses. Nearly 25% of teens surveyed by Zebra, the insurance comparison website, said they lacked a license due to a fear of driving.
Eden Prairie Local News (EPLN) spoke with local teens who postponed getting their licenses. At their request, EPLN chose not to identify them.
One college student, who turned 16 during the COVID-19 pandemic, said, “Even if there was no COVID, I would have delayed it.” He was focused on college applications during his junior year of high school, adding, “(A driver’s) license can wait, college applications won’t.”
Another student waited until he was 18 due to a traumatic experience. While riding with his father, they were struck by a motorbike speeding on the wrong side. The incident prevented him from getting behind the wheel for two years.
One teen, an only child, said her parents persuaded her to wait until she was 18 before getting a license. They also influenced her two cousins, who plan to delay their licenses until they turn 18.
Another teen got her permit at 15 but said, “I don’t have my license yet.”
She described a harrowing driving lesson on a highway: “The instructor made me change like four or five lanes over all the way to the left and then tried to get (me to) go all the way back immediately to get an exit. I wound up missing the exit because I didn’t want to cross four or five lanes at one time. And the instructor was not very happy with that.” She also recalled another incident in Minneapolis with the same instructor, saying, “It was just a stressful experience.”
The reasons teens delay getting licenses vary, but one message is clear: Driver-ed instructors might benefit from reflecting on these students’ experiences.
Editor’s note: Vijay Dixit is the chairman of Shreya R. Dixit Memorial Foundation, a 501-c-3 nonprofit advocating distraction-free driving. He is also a board member of Eden Prairie Local News and a member of the EPLN Development Committee and Journalism team.
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