Whitney Russell
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Fewer US Teens Want to Get Their Driver’s Licenses

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The percentage of U.S. teens with driver’s licenses has dropped again, according to new stats from the Federal Highway Administration. As Bloomberg’s Justin Fox put it, the statistics “have more or less plateaued at levels much lower than those of a few decades ago.” As of 2018, just 25.6 percent of American 16-year-olds could legally drive. This is drastically lower than the 1984 statistic of 47.8 percent of American 16-year-olds.

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Potential reasons for the decline

One possible reason fewer teens have driver’s licenses is that it’s harder to get one than it used to be. In the mid-1990s, many states started introducing new restrictions on when and with whom drivers under 18 years of age can drive, as Fox confirms. Also known as the Graduated Driver’s License, this process requires young drivers to accumulate adult-supervised time behind the wheel for a given time before they can get their license and enjoy the freedom of solo driving.

Another reason could be that vehicles cost more today than in past times. Per The Atlantic’s Gary Cross, modern teens can’t buy a “beater” vehicle and renovate it with scrap-yard parts like they could in the past. Contemporary autos have a lot of high-tech systems that require professional mechanics to maintain and repair.

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teen driver young driver safe driving
A lengthier process to getting a driver’s license as well as increased costs of vehicles are just two hurdles modern teens face when it comes to solo driving.
Photo: State Farm

A cultural shift

Cross articulates how teen car culture has become a thing of the past. Besides the increased number of hoops teens have to jump through to get a driver’s license, it’s now unacceptable for teens to exhibit certain car-related behaviors that were OK about half a century ago. He shares how that politicians and local businesses started pressuring police to prohibit “parking” (i.e. making out in an idling car) and “cruising” (driving around aimlessly).