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Cornell Student Articles on Topical Affairs

No Driver’s License, No Problem – Fewer Young People Are Learning To Drive

Keys to a car used to symbolize freedom, and almost every teenager was interested in hitting the road and exploring the new world open to them. Despite the growing number of young people becoming old enough to drive, fewer are choosing to sit behind the wheel and develop the skills necessary to gain their licenses. Recently, it seems that teens would rather choose other options of transportation, even though older generations still opt for driving as their main method of getting around.

In a recent study, William Fierman reports for Business Insider that there has been a decline in the rate of young drivers taking to the road: “The study…noted the continuation among young drivers aged 16-44, who have charted a steady drop off since at least 1983. For example, the number of drivers 20-24 has shrunk from 91.8% in 1983 to 76.7% in 2014.”

This steady decrease has baffled experts, who have struggled to find a number of reasons why teens might be eschewing a traditional form of independence and relying on friends and family to pick up the slack and drive them to certain events. The trend might not seem obvious at first, but after taking a look at a number of factors, it becomes clearer why more young people have chosen not to purchase a car or go through the steps needed to gain a license.

“Young adults ages 18 to 39 [were surveyed] without driver’s licenses about why they don’t have them. The top three reasons were: ‘too busy or not enough time to get a driver’s license’ (37 percent), ‘owning and maintaining a vehicle is too expensive’ (32 percent), and ‘able to get transportation from others’ (31 percent),” writes Julie Beck for the Atlantic.

With teens taking on more homework, college prep courses, and an increased social life, it’s no surprise that they have had difficulty finding time to sit in another classroom in order to complete yet another test. If it is possible for them to grab a ride with friends or family, or use a ride-sharing app like Uber, then it can save the precious hours it often takes to complete a driver’s education course.

Even more frustrating can be the expenses associated with owning a car. “Whether you have a kid graduating college or high school or just want to accommodate a son or daughter with a freshly-minted driver’s license, finding the best used car for the money can be a difficult proposition,” mentions Jim Gorzelany for Forbes.

Vehicles are becoming more expensive, and many parents worry about the safety of the cars they are offering their children. “It’s not particularly wise to cheap out and use a ‘beater’ used car, since older vehicles tend to be a crapshoot in terms of reliability, and usually many lack important safety features,” Gorzelany warns.

Because car crashes remain the leading cause of death among young Americans, the risk might also seem too much. With so many fatalities, the price of insuring a young driver can also be incredibly expensive. For insurance companies, taking on someone with a brand-new license can be risky, and if a fatality is involved it can tie a company up in law suits. These spikes in insurance costs are not only happening in America, but in other areas of the world.

“Unfortunately, young drivers are responsible for most [serious] accidents—drivers aged under 25 cause 85% of the serious injury claims,” states Mohammad Khan, the UK general insurance leader at PwC. While insurance costs for commercial vehicles has gone down, young people find themselves not only paying for more pricey cars, but also higher premiums every year. While some of this can be attributed to the fact that teens tend to be more attached to their devices while driving, much of it is the fact that they are still learning basics. In fact, it seems that the technology of a cell phone might not be the main thing to consider, but how many passengers are in the car to distract the young driver.

While young adults are the most immediate culprits, the truth is that the amount of time Americans spend on the road is decreasing overall. Unemployment was once considered a major factor for why teens were not driving as much, but it seems as though the rise of the Internet has supplied people with unlimited content to be discovered in the comfort of their own homes. With fewer reasons for individuals to go out for entertainment, the less they need a car to get certain places.

While this news might discourage the auto industry, this trend is likely to continue as cars become more expensive, teens have less time and opportunities for work, and the reality of self-driving more possible, it looks as though young people might give back the keys forever.

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