At 17, Jacki Brimley doesn’t see a single reason to get a driver’s license in Brooklyn.
She can walk to and from school near her home in downtown
“50 hours is just more than I’m willing to put into something that just isn’t that big of a deal right now,” Brimley said.
And apparently, across the nation, other teens see things the same way. The percentage of high school seniors across the country who have a driver’s license dropped from 85.3 percent in 1996 to a record low 71.5 percent in 2015, according to data from the University of Michigan’s Monitoring the Future survey.
While it varies, based on geographical location, a large component in the sharp decline has to do with the economy. In the first decade of 2000, 1 out of every 4 teenagers looking for a job was unable to find one, and while the economy eventually began the trend was being set.
Not only had the teenagers found alternate means of transportation, but they also found themselves privy to the idea that the 50 hours of mandatory supervised driving training (imposed due to the high-risk factors of teenage drivers) could be foregone if one was to wait until the age of 18.
According to the CDC, mandatory supervised driving and strict rules for new drivers (teenagers) was directly responsible for the decrease in fatal crashes. Drivers aged 16 to 19 are among the most dangerous on the road. They are three times more likely than older drivers to be in a fatal crash. But even as that teenage population has increased from 14.9 million in 1996 to 16.9 million in 2015, the number of drivers in that age group involved in fatal crashes fell by more than half, from 6,021 to 2,898, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, an industry-funded nonprofit.
While one would imagine that removing the teenage population from the roadways would result in a precipitous drop in fatal and serious accidents, they would be incorrect. Unfortunately, because teenagers are bypassing the mandatory training, those obtaining their permits after the age of 18 are doing the bare minimum to pass their driving tests, and not a single minute more. This lack of driver education has resulted in a shift of responsibility for the frequency of accidents. Now the demographic most responsible for the majority of traffic accidents has shifted from 16-19 years of age to 17-23.
“That teens can wait out the graduated licensing provisions, which generally expire at 18, is a potential safety problem that could undo some of the reductions in fatalities achieved so far,” said Ruth Shults, an epidemiologist at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who specializes in preventing motor vehicle crashes.
“Once teens or young adults leave the nest, they’ve usually lost the easy ability to get help from parents or older siblings who can introduce them to the rules of the road gradually,” she said.
In New Jersey, the law requires new drivers as old as 20 to complete a period of supervised driving. The age requirement was based on a 2008 study that showed that giving older new drivers more experience on the road could help lower crash rates.
That’s one reason the governors’ association recommended last year that states extend graduated licensing requirements to age 21, and require driver education and training for all new drivers regardless of age.
While this interesting trend plays a critical part in the future generations of drivers, Drive Rite academy has bolstered their teenage driving programs to include not only the full 50 hours of supervised