This time of year high school seniors and their parents are only focused on one thing – graduation! After 13+ years of classroom activities, hours of homework and countless tests seniors have finally earned that coveted diploma.
But more and more high school graduates haven’t earned their driver’s license yet. The University of Michigan has been keeping tabs on teen driving rates for decades, and their research shows the rate of high school seniors with driver’s licenses has dropped from 85.3% in 1996 to an all-time low of 71.2% in 2015.
Upon first glance, this may seem like a good thing. If teens wait two or three extra years they’ll be more mature, right? Plus, parents don’t have to worry about how their kid is performing behind the wheel at the tender age of 16 years old.
However, in the long, run teens that delay getting their driver’s license may be at an increased risk of getting into an accident.
Why Teens Are Putting Off Driving
Teens have all sorts of reasons for delaying their driver’s test. A 2013 USA Today survey found that 18-19-year-olds are more likely to cite the following reasons for not having a license:
- Too busy – 56.6%
- They get rides from others – 40.4%
- Prefer to bike or walk – 24.2%
The survey does point to the well-known fact that Millennials are more likely to opt for a home in a walkable area than other generations. Another 2012 survey by the AAA Foundation found that 39% of 18-20-year-olds without a license felt they could get around just fine without one.
Another interesting reason that was revealed in the AAA survey was that drivers education played a role for many young adults. Of those who didn’t have a license before high school graduation, 28% said it was partly due to drivers ed courses and 26% stated the cost of drivers ed being too expensive. This is often the case in states that have stopped offering drivers ed programs through public schools.
Drivers Ed and the Effects of Delayed Teen Driving
In the state of Washington, they’ve noticed the same increase in young people waiting until they’re 18 or older to get a license. Since 2004 Washington saw a 41% increase in 18-21-year-olds getting their learners’ permit. But the Department of Licensing points out 18-21-year-old drivers are actually riskier than 16-17-year-old drivers.
The department’s data shows that on average drivers who wait until 18 or older to get a license receive about three times more citations than people who start driving at 16 years old. After analyzing the data of drivers between 16-25 years old who had only been driving two years, Washington’s Department of Licensing found that 16-year-olds (permitted at 15) had the least traffic tickets.
Why are high school teenagers the better drivers? Experts say it comes down to more restrictions and oversight. In order for a 16-year-old to get a drivers license in Washington, they must have a permit first and pass drivers ed courses. People who are 18 and older just have to pass a test to get a drivers license.
Clearly, when teen drivers take the time to learn proper driving skills it’s reflected by their performance on the road. Another study from the University of Nebraska backs this up. The study found that teens who take drivers ed courses are much less likely to be involved in a fatal crash. Those who haven’t had any sort of training are 75% more likely to get a traffic ticket and 24% more likely to be in a fatal or injury accident.
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