AAA Foundation Study: Number of licensed teen drivers on the rise

New study in conjunction with National Teen Driver Safety Week shows more teens are obtaining their license before the age of 18

TOWSON, MD (Monday, October 21, 2019) –– As part of National Teen Driver Safety Week, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety is releasing new research.  The Foundation research shows that more than 60% of teens obtained their driver’s license before the age of 18, an 11% increase since 2012.

The new report reveals a changing trend in teen licensure from when the Foundation first evaluated the issue in 2012. At that time, the country was just emerging from a recession and many young people cited their family’s inability to afford the high cost of driving as a reason why they did not obtain their license sooner.

“The trend of teens obtaining their driver’s license has shifted over the past 10 years,” said Ragina C. Ali, Public and Government Affairs Manager at AAA Mid-Atlantic. “Many are now obtaining their license before the age of 18, which means more of Generation Z is learning to drive under the protection of state graduated driver licensing programs and parental supervision.”

The new AAA Foundation study surveyed young adults ages 18-24 to determine when they obtained their license and found that nationally, 40.8% got their license at or before age 16 and 60.3% got their license before the age of 18. Other findings show:

  • Only half (49.8%) of teens in large cities obtain their license before the age of 18, compared with nearly two-thirds of those in less urbanized areas.
  • Teens living in the Midwest tend to be licensed at younger ages — 55% at or before age 16 and 70% before age 18. While only one-third (32.2%) of teens living in the West and fewer than a quarter (22.3%) of teens in the Northeast reported getting their license at or before age 16, only 56% (Northeast) and 48% (West) did so before age 18.

Past AAA Foundation research found that for every mile driven, new teen drivers ages 16-17 years old are three times as likely as adults to be involved in a deadly crash. All states have in place graduated driver licensing (GDL) systems for teen drivers ages 16 and 17 to help them gradually learn the rules of the road under less risky conditions. The programs require minimum holding periods and practice requirements for teens with learner’s permits, followed by restricted licenses that limit driving at night or with peer passengers.

“The fact that more teens are starting to drive at an age when they can gradually learn the necessary skills to be safe behind the wheel is great news for all drivers,” said Ali. “Past trends of waiting until you turn 18 to be licensed was a cause for concern. Many of these young drivers were getting behind the wheel with minimal knowledge or support, putting themselves and others at risk.”

In 2017, Maryland had 82,709 licensed drivers 18 years old and younger. In 2012, 63,107 teens 19 and under were licensed to drive in the state, compared to 171,199 teens 19 and under in 1990, according to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) database on driver licensure.

A previous AAA Foundation study found that drivers first licensed at age 18 are more likely to be involved in a crash resulting in injuries during their first year of solo driving than new drivers licensed at any other age. Nearly 28% of the young adults in the AAA Foundation survey reported waiting until they were 18 or older to get their license. Reasons young adults cited for delaying licensure included:

  • Nervous about driving (68.4%)
  • They could do everything they needed without driving (52.6%)
  • Driving was too expensive (33.3%)
  • Too busy to get a license (28.9%)
  • Family members did not have time to help them get their license (20.5%)

“It is imperative that all new drivers practice driving with a skilled coach through a variety of routes and in different weather conditions before heading out on their own,” said Dr. Bill Van Tassel, AAA manager of driver training programs. “Novice drivers shouldn’t let the first time that they drive in the rain or on the freeway be at a time when they’re alone.”

By setting parameters, new drivers can greatly minimize their risk of a crash. AAA recommends that regardless of their age when first learning to drive, new drivers should remember to “R.E.A.D the road”:

  • R = Right speed, for right now: Always mind the speed limit and reduce your speed when traveling in adverse weather conditions.
  • E = Eyes up, brain on: Always scan the road to anticipate dangers ahead. Eliminate distractions and keep your mind focused on the task of driving.
  • A = Anticipate their next move: Be aware of other drivers on the road. Anticipate their next move and always have a plan to respond.
  • D = Huge DONUT of space around your vehicle: Keep large amounts of space to the front and sides of your vehicle.

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