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Study: Fewer teenagers obtaining driver's licenses

By Chelsea Landry, Daily Staff Reporter
Published December 7, 2011

High school driver’s education classes may be becoming less popular, as fewer teenagers are eager to get behind the wheel, according to a recent University study.

Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle, researchers at the University’s Transportation Research Institute, published a report last week in the journal Traffic Injury Prevention indicating that fewer teenagers are obtaining their driver’s licenses, while more elderly Americans are continuing to drive. In 1983, a third of all U.S. drivers were under the age of 30. But today, only 22 percent of drivers fall into this category, according to the study.

Sivak wrote in an e-mail interview that a major reason for the trend is the shift toward electronic communication among America’s youth, reducing the need for “actual contact among young people.”

Time spent driving detracts from time spent texting, Sivak wrote, especially with various laws in many states that ban texting while driving. Michigan was the 28th state to ban texting while driving with a law that took effect in July 2010.

According to the study, the rates of teenagers with driver’s licenses have decreased at every age. In 1983, 80 percent of 18 year olds held driver’s licenses, and in 2008, the number was 65 percent.

Sixteen-year-olds are also less likely to have a license today than they were 25 years ago. In 2008, 31 percent of 16 year olds had a license, compared to 46 percent in 1983, according to the study.

Young adults under age 30 are also less likely to be on the road today, as the study indicates a 10-percent drop in the number of drivers in their 20s and a 5 percent drop in drivers who are in their 30s compared to 1983 levels.

Another main finding of the study, according to Sivak, is that senior citizens are becoming less likely to relinquish their licenses as they grow older.

“We think that this reflects the fact that the elderly are less likely to give up their mobility now than they were 25 years ago,” Sivak wrote.

Fred Woodhams, a spokesman for the Michigan Department of State, confirmed that an increasing number of senior citizens are continuing to stay on the roads, as America’s population continues to age.

“We recognize that people are living longer lives and living (more) active lives,” Woodhams said.

He added that senior drivers seem to be “very safe drivers” since they tend to use their seat belts often and are not likely to drive drunk or be overly aggressive behind the wheel.

Senior citizens account for 16.5 percent of Michigan drivers, but only represent 8 percent of drivers involved in crashes, according the Woodhams.

However, Woodhams acknowledged that senior drivers do tend to raise public concern.

“The issue of senior drivers is (one) we get a lot of questions about, especially from families,” he said. “We encourage people to be aware of their abilities.”

Sivak echoed Woodham’s sentiments, adding that the shift in age of America’s drivers could have serious implications for the number of vehicles purchased and environmental consequences of transportation in the future.