University researchers find decrease in number of drivers' licenses

Monday, January 25, 2016 - 3:26pm

Though it may come as surprise to commuters driving in bumper-to-bumper traffic on State Street some mornings, the number of people receiving their driver's license in the United States is decreasing each year, according to research conducted by the University of Michigan Transport Research Institute.

The study, which was published earlier this month, shows that the number of 19 year-olds becoming licensed to drive has decreased 18 percent from 1983 to 2014. 

Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle, who are UMTRI research scientists, attributed the decrease to increasing costs associated with driving and a stronger environmental conscious, but ultimately boils down to an apathetic generation.

Michigan State University junior Paige McKeon said she waited until she was 19 before becoming licensed to drive.

“I was lazy and it was not necessary." McKeon said. "I didn’t feel like putting the effort in when my parents would drive me around,” McKeon said. “I also didn’t have money to buy a car so it just wasn’t logical to get my license.”

McKeon is not alone according to Sivak’s and Schoettle’s research; thirty-seven percent of people surveyed claimed they did not get a license because they were simply too busy. Sivak and Schoettle also reported that 32 percent of people who chose not to get a driver's license were discouraged by costs of owning a car.  

In an interview, Schoettle said the study showed socioeconomic status influenced the results of the study.

“We did look at socioeconomic issues like education and employment,” Schoettle said. “We found that those without a license tended have less education and higher unemployment.”

While the researchers also attributed the decline to increasing costs associated with driving, Sivak and Schoettle said they did not believe increases in gas prices were a factor.

Adjusted according to inflation, gas cost 70 cents more per gallon at the end of 2013 than in January 1983 according the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. The Bureau reports the biggest discrepancy in prices during the past 31 years was in May 2011 when gas prices were at an all-time high at $4.07 per gallon.

Along with fluctuating gas prices and automobile costs, environmental issues were tested as a factor in the reduction. 

Sivak and Schoettle’s research indicated those sentiments have moderate effects on fewer people getting their licenses — 8.6 percent of people surveyed reported wanting to protect the environment influenced their decision.

Despite the nationwide decrease, Suhail Bilbeisi, owner of the Ann Arbor Driving School, said he has not noticed a decrease in enrollment since opening his business in 2001. Rather, he said enrollment has risen despite class enrollment fees increasing by $25.

“We’ve been getting more students as the business has progressed,” Bilbeisi said.

Schoettle said he was unable to pinpoint the exact reasoning why Bilbeisi's business has not noticed the trend, but said there could be a difference between local and national data.

“It is hard to say why a driving school might not be noticing this trend,” he said. “It could be that locally, the trend is a little different, or possibly that older people getting licenses are offsetting the reductions in younger drivers. It would be interesting to see if the age breakdown has changed for driving schools.”