September 25, 2017

Remember being 15, eager for your learner’s permit? Surprise — today’s teens are not hurrying to get driver licenses.


When my son turned 15, he was not interested in driving. This surprised my husband and me, but it turns out our son is part of a trend: Teens are delaying getting their driver licenses.

The University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, among other organizations, has reported the numbers. In 2014, only 24 percent of teens were licensed at age 16, and 69 percent at age 19. That’s a big drop from the prior generation. The institute notes that in 1983, 46 percent of adolescents had a license at age 16, and 87 percent by age 19.

At first I felt relief over my son’s dawdling. The top cause of death for American teens are accidents of many types — with car accidents making up most of that category.  I imagined horrible fiery, bloody fatal highway wrecks and wanted to keep my kid locked in the house, in a crash helmet and protective padding.

But realistically, unless he spends his entire life in a big city with mass transit, he needed to know how to drive. If your child refuses to drive, think about these points:

Consider the possible reasons why.

The Highway Loss Data Institute in 2013 mostly blamed the Great Recession for teens’ delays in getting licensed. Kids couldn’t find enough part-time work to afford gas and insurance. Driving is expensive, certainly. You and your teen need to agree on what expenses he’s responsible for and how he’ll earn the money.

An observant friend realized something else the studies mention, far more relevant in our case than the economy. Today’s teens are so connected to each other digitally, they do not need to drive across town to hang out. My son conducts friendships via cellphone, text, Skype and interactive online games (hello, League of Legends!). Other moms told me their teens travel so easily via Uber or Lyft – or parents driving them everywhere – that their children don’t have an urgent need to hold a license.

In other words, technology and accommodating parents may delay teens from learning an important skill.

Encourage a conversation with your child about why he’s procrastinating.

If your teenager is afraid to drive, calm his anxiety by tackling driving in small, manageable steps. This slow transition will help your teenager be less scared of driving by easing them into the task. Every kid’s maturity level and emotions are different, but if your teen is just not feeling the need for a license, you as the parent may have to nudge him or her forward.

Postponing a driver’s license may do your child a disservice.

A big reason for teenagers’ car crashes is that they’re inexperienced drivers. Graduated drivers licensing laws ease teens into full driving privileges as they gain experience. AAA notes that if teens wait until they’re 18 to get licensed, the GDL requirements don’t apply to them, so they won’t gain the protection of those rules during their first year on the road.

Like anything else, becoming a good driver takes practice. When my son turned 16 – still without a learner’s permit – I shifted my worry gears. Suddenly I wondered if by tolerating his procrastination, we were cheating him of valuable time practicing his skills and actually increasing his risk of a horrific crash.

You may have to jump-start the process.

My husband gave an ultimatum: Son better be ready to go to the DMV for his Tennessee learner’s permit in a few days’ time. While it took two visits to the DMV to pass the test, he did receive his permit. Hurdle cleared.

What followed was months of taking our son out for driving practice a few times each week. Despite dragging his feet for so long, my son quickly gained enthusiasm for going out to drive long slow loops through an empty parking lot. He’s now 18 and a confident, licensed driver.

His 15-year-old sister is up next. Unlike her brother at the same age, she is very eager to learn to drive. We’ll give her plenty of practice, too. I hope both of them have a lifetime of safe driving ahead.


This post was written by Maura Ammenheuser, a web content producer for Vanderbilt University Medical Center. She has an 18-year-old son, a 15-year-old daughter and an old car with four air bags and several dents.


Read more

Another mom offers a list of important safety rules to teach teen drivers.

Parents of teenagers typically worry about their safety when they’re out on their own. My Southern Health offers many tips on helping teens stay safe, whether they’re driving or not.