January 29, 2012

Percent of teenagers with driver's license still plummeting

I think I've already got two other graphs like this on the blog somewhere, but the 2010 data are in.

The first drop-off takes place in 1990, actually a bit before the peak in the crime rate. This is another example of cocooning behavior slightly preceding a drop in violence rates. During the mid-2000s, it looked like it might have been slowing down, but it's only fallen at a faster rate within the past several years. The overall decline gets sharper the younger the age group you look at -- least steep for 19 year-olds, up to the most steep for 16 year-olds.

A driver's license used to be sought after as a rite of passage and a ticket to freedom, especially in high school when you don't have a college campus that's at least somewhat accessible by foot or school shuttles. By now, among high schoolers old enough to get one (16-17 year-olds), only 38% have followed through. Talk about delaying growing up.

Don't teenagers find it embarrassing anymore to have to get driven around by their parents, or burden their one friend who drives with ride requests? Truly a lazy and shameless generation.

It would be neat to find data on rates of attempting the test for the first time, passing rates, and re-try rates for those who failed. Like, are fewer of them trying to get a license at all? Even among those who try, if they fail, are they more likely to put off the second attempt until much later?

Due to a careless mistake, I flunked my first test -- and right on my 16th birthday! -- but I showed up the next weekend, or maybe the one after that, and passed it with no problems. Today I don't think a 16 year-old would have that minimal amount of perseverance. They'd need a year of self-esteem therapy before they'd feel comfortable giving it another go.


  1. Maybe there are additional reasons. Although the number of vehicles has been steadily rising, perhaps there are more teens who do not have access to a car.

  2. I failed my first test also, and the instructor had the demeanor of a drill sergeant. I took it a week later and passed.

    The "no-license" thing seems strangely contradictory. If teenagers aren't driving as much, the implication is either that they're staying at their homes for most of the time, *or* they're out on foot in roving gangs like the old days.

    I mean, where do they get their food from? I find it hard to believe that mothers have started cooking more - so could it be that the "coming-together" is starting to accelerate? On a weekend night, I usually see large gangs of kids, usually sharing one guy's car, hanging out at the fast food places or the all-purpose convenience store...

  3. Chances are there are multiple factors at work:

    1. Fewer parents (or teens themselves) can afford the high cost of car insurance. This may be a big factor behind the major licensing drop in 2008-2010.

    2. An increasing percentage of teens are minorities. For economic and cultural purposes, minorities are less likely to drive than are whites.

    3. More states have strict restrictions on teen drivers, such as no driving at night and no carrying of passengers. These restrictions make driving less appealing.


  4. I think I also failed my first test (kept rolling a bit past stop signs, which I continued to do once I had a license), then just took it again at the next opportunity. Now I live in the city and can bike everywhere I need to go, or if need be use public transportation. For that reason I believe the majority of New Yorkers don't have licenses.

  5. I personally don't have a license. Canada's driving laws are a little different. You have to pass a written test and then you get your practicing license which only lets you drive under supervision. After a year you get to go for another license which comes with restrictions on where and when you can drive. Your full license comes after that.

    I don't ask people to drive me around all the time. I use a bus. Not everyone can afford a license, car, gas, and insurance, and not everyone has parents that are going to pay for all that for them. Even if youre parents offered to pay all that, why would you want them to?

    And you'd be embarrassed asking them for a ride once in awhile, but not asking for them to buy you a car?

    Just sayin.

  6. No one bought us our own cars back in the day, don't be stupid. We drove one of the family cars.

    Some teenagers even had a thing called a job so they could buy a car of their own, used of course.

    And anyway Millennials are greedy self-entitled brats -- "Fuck you dad for getting me the WRONG COLOR IPHONE!" -- so the idea that they're declining to get a license out of concern for their parents is totally bogus.

  7. Is this data strictly pertaining to U.S. teenagers? And if so, what resources did you rely on to create this graph? Like Peter, I'm sure there are more factors at work at the trend than simply finger-pointing to greedy self-entitled teens with a lack of motivation.


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