It used to be that obtaining a driver’s license was a rite of passage for American teenagers. The ability to operate a car represented not only responsibility, but a step toward independence. Now, however, teens are driving significantly less than they have in 50 years. Only half of Americans 16 through 19-year-olds have a license, down from 72% in 1983, reports National Geographic.
Not only does the United States have fewer young licensed drivers, but even those teenagers that do drive are choosing to drive less. That may be alarming to the oil industry, but from an environmental standpoint, fewer motorists on the road is great. These reduced driving rates have even prompted the U.S. Energy Information Administration to revise its energy projections. The organization anticipates that the need for fuel to run cars will decline by about 25% by 2040.
Certainly, the economic crash has had an impact on the driving rates. Teen employment rates are at record lows — whereas more than half of kids aged 16-19 had summer jobs in the 90s, that number is down to under one-third now. Without jobs, teenagers are unable to afford gas and insurance, let alone an automobile. Plus, having no job means having one less place that a young person would need to travel. If the economy were to rebound meaningfully — particularly if it restored summer jobs for students — then experts could foresee a slight jump in young drivers again.
Others believe that social media has also played a role in teens foregoing getting behind the wheel. Since young people know how to connect via the internet, there is less need for them to meet up in person as often.
Although more Americans move toward getting a license in their twenties, even the driving rate of 20 to 24-year-olds has taken a dive. At its peak in 1983, 92% of young adults in this demographic had licenses, down to just under 80% currently. If today’s teenagers stick to their word, this number will drop further in upcoming years: 22% of teenaged non-drivers say they never intend to get licenses.
This trend isn’t unique to the United States either. Several other industrialized nations such as Germany, Japan, Canada and South Korea are having similar declines in young motorists.
On a survey of non-driving teens, the number one reason American teens listed for not driving was that they are simply “too busy” to get a license. Other leading factors are that the teens prefer to bike, walk, or take public transportation.
While many of us may be tempted to call this drop a part of a green revolution, the statistics don’t necessarily support this theory. According to the same survey, only 9% listed environmental concern as a top reason for not obtaining a license. Though it’d be even nicer if these kids were eco-conscious, their motivations don’t negate the benefit of their non-driving on the climate.