The Surprising Decline of a Teenage Rite of Passage

When I was in high school, turning 16 was a huge deal. Most kids, myself included, went to the DMV on their birthday to take the driving test. Then when they passed, they posed, smiles plastered on their triumphant young faces, for their first driver’s license photo. However, The Atlantic  is reporting that young people aren’t getting driver’s licenses anymore. “In 2014, just 24.5 percent of 16-year-olds had a license, a 47-percent decrease from 1983, when 46.2 percent did. And at the tail end of the teen years, 69 percent of 19-year-olds had licenses in 2014, compared to 87.3 percent in 1983, a 21-percent decrease,” writes Julie Beck.

Researchers aren’t sure what is causing the decline, although previous studies have shown that young adults ages 18 to 39 cite the following three reasons for not having a license: They are too busy to get a driver’s license, owning a car is too expensive, or they are able to get transportation elsewhere. Another possible motive? Driving in general may have already peaked in the US. People are spending less time traveling by car to get to work, school, and leisure activities. “The ease of Amazon, the rise of teleworking, and the endless entertainment provided by the Internet may be leading people to stay home more,” says Beck. Considering that I don’t drive, I can relate to the young people who have no desire to take on the responsibilities of owning a car; just thinking about parallel parking on a busy city street makes me anxious! I’d rather walk or Lyft to wherever I’m trying to go.

To learn more about the evolution of the automobile industry in America, read Why We Drive.

Do you drive? Do you know a teenager who does not have a license? What was his or her reason for not getting one?