teen drivers
(AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety)

In a recent study, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that just 44 percent of teenagers get a driver’s license within one year of reaching the eligible age to do so. The study also found that 54 percent of all teens have a driver’s license by their 18th birthday. AAA says in a press release that these recent findings contrast with 20 years ago, when more than two-thirds of individuals had a driver’s license by the age of 18.

AAA says that safety experts find these statistics troubling, as “young adult drivers are missing the benefits intended by graduated drivers licensing (GDL).”  According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, GDL is a way to gradually introduce driving to newly-licensed individuals; GDL typically starts with a restricted learner’s permit, and then a limited license that restricts the newly-licensed driver from driving after dark or with peers.

AAA Director of State Relations Justin McNaull says the benefit of teens getting a driver’s license before 18 allows novice drivers to gain experience driving under parental supervision and in generally lower-risk situations.

According to the press release, the AAA Foundation found in past studies “that states with comprehensive GDL systems have experienced a 38 percent decrease in fatal crashes involving 16 year-olds and a 40 percent reduction in injury crashes.”

Further research shows that despite the drop in teenagers getting driver's licenses, teenage driving fatalities are on the rise. The Washington Post cites data from the Governors Highway Safety Administration, which found a rise of 197 percent in highway fatalities among 16- and 17-year-olds in the first half of 2012.

According to the study, the following primary reasons were cited as reasons for teens putting off licensure: not having a car, not needing to drive to get around, gas being too expensive, driving being too expensive or simply not getting around to it. The study also found that teens in low-income households were less likely to get a license than their counterparts in households with an income of $100,000 or more, and that more non-Hispanic white teens are more likely to get a license than non-Hispanic black or Hispanic teens.

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