More teens waiting to get behind the wheel

August 1, 2013 12:00 AM

Many people remember the moment when they earn their driver's license. The hours spent practicing behind the wheel or learning the rules of the road in a driver's ed class all paid off when you earned the right to drive, but it seems many teens are pushing this entire process back. According to a new study from AAA, only 44 percent of teens get their license within 12 months of eligibility, and just 54 percent have earned it by the time they turn 18.

Why teens are waiting to drive
NBC News reports that fewer teens are driving now compared to the 1980s. Data from the Federal Highway Administration shows that approximately 20 percent of 16-year-olds and 70 percent of 19-year-olds were licensed in 2010, compared to 46 percent of 16-year-olds and 87 percent of 19-year-olds in 1983. 

Many of these teens are putting off learning to drive because they don't have a car and think owning and operating a vehicle would be too expensive. Another portion simply do not have the immediate need for a car, as they have access to other methods of transportation. 

"With one in three teens waiting to get their license until they turn 18, there's a segment of this generation missing opportunities to learn under the safeguards that GDL [graduated drivers licensing] provides," said Peter Kissinger, president of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. "For most, it's about not having a car or having alternatives for getting around that are the top reasons cited for delaying what has traditionally been a rite of passage."

Safety concerns
Safety experts are concerned that these young adults are missing a vital part of the learning process - namely, participation in the graduated drivers licensing program. This setup has teens earning a permit and driving with an adult before getting their license, and then slowly gaining more independence on the roads. When they get a license at age 18, however, they can bypass this and start driving without restrictions, skipping over potentially valuable lessons about the rules of the road, auto repair basics and driving etiquette. 

"For a range of reasons, young adults increasingly are getting licenses without the benefit of parental supervision, extensive practice and gaining experience under less risky conditions that are the hallmark of a safety-focused licensing system," said Justin McNaull, a teen driving expert from AAA. "Researchers and policymakers should examine whether existing state GDL systems - nearly all of which end once a teen turns 18 - can be modified to improve safety for these young adult novice drivers." 

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