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Rideshare South: Why Way Fewer Teens Are Bothering With a Driver’s License

| March 4, 2017

rideshare teens

Let others do the driving. (© FlaglerLive)

At 16, Henry Stock doesn’t see many reasons to get a driver’s license. He can walk to stores near his home in Hollywood, Florida. Many of his friends are fellow gamers he can talk to online. And he can use a mobile ride-sharing app to get a ride when he needs one.


So while Stock has a learner’s permit, he hasn’t yet made much of a dent in the 50 hours of supervised driving he needs to get a full license in Florida.

“It’s more time and effort than I want to put into something that won’t benefit me a lot right now,” Stock said.

Other teens see things the same way. The share of high school seniors across the country who have a driver’s license dropped from 85.3 percent in 1996 to a record low 71.5 percent in 2015, according to data from the University of Michigan’s Monitoring the Future survey.

The drop has been sharpest in the South, where the share of high school seniors with a driver’s license fell from 88.6 percent in 1996 to 71.2 percent in 2015. High school seniors are most likely to have a license in the Midwest — 80.4 percent — and least likely to have one in the Northeast — 64.8 percent.

Part of the reason is economic: fewer jobs, especially during the Great Recession, which meant teens didn’t need to get to work and had less money to bankroll their rides. But even as the economy improved, the share of high school seniors with a license has generally been on the decline. That’s partly a result of tough new rules imposed on young drivers and an explosion in ride-hailing and ride-sharing services.

The shift appears to be having a direct impact on safety.

Drivers aged 16 to 19 are among the most dangerous on the road. They are three times more likely than older drivers to be in a fatal crash. But even as that teenage population has increased from 14.9 million in 1996 to 16.9 million in 2015, the number of drivers in that age group involved in fatal crashes fell by more than half, from 6,021 to 2,898, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, an industry-funded nonprofit.

stateline logo analysisMatt Moore, a vice president at the Highway Loss Data Institute, a group affiliated with the insurance institute that analyzes insurance statistics, said so-called graduated licenses such as Florida’s, which require set periods of training and restrict driving privileges at certain ages, have been most responsible for the long-term reduction in the share of teen drivers. “From a safety perspective, that’s a good thing,” Moore said.

But there are signs that the level of fatal accidents involving teens may not stay so low.

The number of 16- to 19-year-old drivers involved in fatal accidents crept up in 2014, from 2,584 to 2,622, and again in 2015, to 2,898, according to statistics compiled by the insurance institute — the first increase since 2002. And the Governors Highway Safety Association noted a 10 percent rise from 2014 to 2015 in the number of 15- to 20-year-old drivers who died in crashes, the first increase for that age group since 2006.

What could be behind the rise? Some traffic safety analysts say licensed teens are driving more as the economy improves and they get jobs. And, they say, more are getting licenses after they turn 18, when most states no longer require training for new drivers.

High Costs

Robert Foss, director of the Center for the Study of Young Drivers at the University of North Carolina, said his state saw a sharp drop in the number of fully licensed 16- and 17-year-old drivers after graduated licensing took effect in 1997.

But when the licensing rate for teenagers continued to drop, Foss said, it was “really almost exclusively about the economy. That had a big effect on teens and their ability to drive and their need to drive.”  

rideshare teen driving driver's licenses

Click on the image for larger view. (© Pew Charitable Trusts)

A 2012 survey from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that the most common reason for teens to delay getting a license was not having a car. More than a third cited gasoline and other costs, and many, like Stock, also mentioned the ability to get around without driving.

The recession and its aftermath deprived teens of work opportunities as many older workers were laid off and started to compete for lower-level jobs. The unemployment rate for 16- to 19-year-olds was near 25 percent from 2009 to 2013.

“That means one in four teenagers who wanted a job couldn’t find one,” said Moore of the data institute. “The reality is if you graduated high school at the worst of the recession, you were having a hard time supporting yourself as a teen driver.”

High teen unemployment coincided with some of the biggest drops in license rates for high school seniors, from 82.1 percent in 2005 to 72.1 percent in 2011, Monitoring the Future data show.

Delayed Driving

After a few states experimented with tougher graduated licensing requirements in the early 1990s, by 2006 every state had adopted some form of requirement or restriction. The requirements and restrictions vary. But most states limit driving activity seen as high risk, such as driving at night or driving unsupervised with teen passengers.

The insurance institute set up a calculator to estimate how many fatalities could be prevented by applying some states’ strict driving policies in other states. For instance, if Florida increased its minimum licensing age from 16 to 17 as New Jersey has, the number of fatal crashes would drop by 13 percent and collision claims would drop by 5 percent, according to the calculator.

Some teens are putting off getting licenses until they’re old enough to avoid the graduated licensing process.

Andrew Bennett, a regional coordinator for Nevada’s Zero Teen Fatalities program, knows firsthand how hard it was to get through the state’s graduated licensing program. He waited until he was 18, five years ago, to avoid having to document the time spent driving while his parents supervised him.

“I was heavily involved in sports and band, and it was quite a bit of hassle just to lock down my parents’ time for 50 hours,” Bennett said.

He now volunteers with a high school band in Henderson and sees many students arriving with parents, by bicycle or on public transportation — even though they’re old enough to get a driver’s license. “Some consider it a hassle,” Bennett said. “For others it’s that they can’t afford insurance, so they just wait until they go to college or get a job.” 

That teens can wait out the graduated licensing provisions, which generally expire at 18, is a potential safety problem that could undo some of the reductions in fatalities achieved so far, said Ruth Shults, an epidemiologist at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who specializes in preventing motor vehicle crashes.

Once teens or young adults leave the nest, they’ve usually lost the easy ability to get help from parents or older siblings who can introduce them to the rules of the road gradually, she said.

In New Jersey, the law requires new drivers as old as 20 to complete a period of supervised driving. The age requirement was based on a 2008 study that showed that giving older new drivers more experience on the road could help lower crash rates.

That’s one reason the governors’ association recommended last year that states extend graduated licensing requirements to age 21, and require driver education and training for all new drivers regardless of age. 

“If you don’t learn to drive when you live at home, your chances of benefiting from the experience of a really expert driver has probably really diminished,” Shults said.

–Tim Henderson, Stateline

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18 Responses for “Rideshare South: Why Way Fewer Teens Are Bothering With a Driver’s License”

  1. Jon Hardison says:

    Hmmm. This has been an issue in our house. Our oldest boy wasn’t interested in getting his license because he didn’t feel he needed it, and that was fine with us. Something this article doesn’t mention is that a licensed driver in the home MUST be on the insurance. So parents, particularly those that know their kids don’t “need” a license, are far more likely not to push them to get one.

    But that older boy suffered as a result of not getting one as soon as he could. His insurance rates stayed higher for longer because of the assumption of a lack of experience.

    Our younger boy, however… He got his license on the day of his birthday and a cheap car the week after. This started his driving record as early as possible while insulating us from the higher rates we’d have to pay for him to drive our cars.

    I don’t know… I think parents and insurance costs play a far larger roll than implied by this article.
    At the time our oldest son could get his license I’m not sure we’d have wanted him to do it.

  2. YankeeExPat says:

    Regardless of age, driving requires Proper Vision, practical Hand Eye coordination, complete attention to the task of driving with the ability to disregard distractions not pertinent to the driver. Safe driving requires concentration and real world (on the Road) practice. It also requires the intellectual understanding that driving on public roads makes one responsible for their own actions and the ability to counteract and make instant judgments and actions to preserve their lives and others on the road including pedestrians, bicyclist hat commercial vehicles. The Privilege, (As Driving is Not A Right) of Driving on public roads also requires that you understand and accept that the law provides for the Police, Fire and all First Responders vehicles precedent of movement ahead of privately owned vehicles.

  3. YankeeExPat says:

    Regardless of age, driving requires Proper Vision, practical Hand Eye coordination, complete attention to the task of driving with the ability to disregard distractions not pertinent to the driver. Safe driving requires concentration and real world (on the Road) practice. It also requires the intellectual understanding that driving on public roads makes one responsible for their own actions and the ability to counteract and make instant judgments and actions to preserve their lives and others on the road including pedestrians, bicyclist and commercial vehicles. The Privilege, (As Driving is Not A Right) of Driving on public roads also requires that you understand and accept that the law provides for the Police, Fire and all First Responders vehicles precedent of movement ahead of privately owned vehicles.

  4. Richard Smith says:

    Maybe this explains the very poor driving habits of Florida drivers compared to other states I have driven in; people are not being educated on how to drive correctly. Florida drivers are worst than California drivers. One daily example is the number of people who have no clue how to merge onto a freeway where vehicles are doing 75 mph. It should be mandatory to complete a drivers education program like what I took in high school back in the 60’s. It was free back then and so what if it costs a bunch of money now. It was great training and embedded proper driving techniques plus they taught us how to drive defensively. Lord knows millions of Floridians could use that education alone. I have never had to drive MORE defensively in Florida than any other state even California or New York.

  5. Safe Teenage Driver says:

    The thing is though majority of the drivers that are in florida come from other states, and the drivers who are from florida are old people who shouldnt be driving because their reaction time isnt as good as it once was and they are sometimes senile or handicap and really shouldnt be driving in the first place. Majority of younger drivers have taken a drivers ed course as its required in highschool and also is required when you get your permit. I have yet to be in any accidents or cause any accidents, even after getting my license my parents still chose to ride with me until they knew i felt completely comfortable to be on my own.

  6. Sw says:

    Good dont want them on the road

  7. USA Lover says:

    I got my license on my 16th birthday in 1966 and rode off to one of my three jobs in my brand new ’66 Chevelle SS convertible. The world will never be the same again.

  8. Dave says:

    First off there is no way florida drivers are worse than california drivers, that is absolutely false, and second to the parent talking about more expensive insurance for drivers who wait to get their license, parents shouldn’t be paying for thier child’s driving insurance, that should be left up the the driver ,not the parent

  9. gmath55 says:

    I agree with Richard Smith. Some people merge onto the freeway doing 40 mph! You should at least do the same speed allowed on the highway unless there is a lot of traffic. I merge doing 70 mph.

  10. Sherry says:

    Not to confuse anyone with actual facts. . . California and New York are both in the top 10 safest states for drivers. . . Mass. was #1:

    http://www.propertycasualty360.com/2014/09/30/the-10-safest-states-for-drivers?t=coverage-issues&slreturn=1488749066&page=11

  11. Sherry says:

    As for Florida. . . we are # 32 out of 50. . . NOT GOOD:

    How Florida Ranks

    In 2014, the year for which the most current data is available, Florida had slightly more vehicle fatalities per 100,000 people than the national average. Florida reported 2,494 total traffic fatalities in 2014, or 12.54 per 100,000 people. In contrast, the state with the lowest number of fatalities reported 3.49 per 100,000 people. There were 685 alcohol-impaired driving fatalities and 245 speeding-related fatalities in 2014 in Florida. Overall, Florida ranks 32nd for fatalities per 100,000.

  12. Richard Smith says:

    I have lived in California for 16 years, Los Angeles area and 49 years in New York, have driven across this country multiple times. I am now a resident of Florida and I hate to burst your bubble but Florida takes First prize for the worst drivers. No contest!

  13. Born and Raised Here says:

    Only teens that have a job should be entitled to a Driver’s License, and the license should be restricted for driving to work and school only.

  14. Richard Smith says:

    Statistics can and are manipulated in many ways to serve and support whatever topic the author is writing in regards to so unfortunately take them with a grain of salt. They are sort of like election polls! Opinions are even worse. Just Google “which states have the worst driver’s” for example and you will get LOTS of varying opinions. This one “supports” my opinion from CBS News – LOL.

    http://www.cbsnews.com/news/which-state-has-the-worst-drivers-in-the-us/

  15. Sherry says:

    Although I’m a Florida native (until age 18), I lived the the San Francisco Bay area for 20 years and have also driven across the USA several time. . . in addition to traveling abroad extensively. I agree with you, Richard. . . Florida has some of the worse drivers in the USA. . . as confirmed in the straight forward “statistics” I previously quoted. Where as Italy, Ireland and now Guatemala are a completely different story.

    While “statistics” CAN be twisted and taken out of context . . . they should not be dismissed out of hand. Statistics are certainly not the same as “opinion” polls, because they are compiled using actual factual data and numbers. Forget statistics? In favor of what? We now live in an age of complete “conspiracy theory”. . . with the current administration leading the way. We should not fall into the fascist trap of disbelieving actual factual information .

  16. Old Lady says:

    Wondering how these statistics would play out in Flagler County?

  17. Dave says:

    Maybe the ones claiming florida has worse drivers than cali are the ones driving badly, let’s put it this way , if your only going 75 mph you need to get over into the right lane, slower traffic keep right, yes u will get tailgate and flicked the bird and cutoff if you are driving like a turtle,it’s dangerous to be driving so slow in the left lane

  18. Sara says:

    At 16 you are not allowed to use rideshare. Both Uber and Lyft require you to be 18 to use alone…. guess drivers are not doing their duties in said Florida town to make sure passenger is of age!

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