Do you know the primary reason teenagers don’t have driver’s licenses? According to a University of Michigan study released this week, 26.9 percent say they’re “too busy” and “don’t have enough time.” What, not enough time to get the keys to the kingdom, a card that used to be a rite of passage for all 16-year-olds? I would have walked through hot coals.
I’m sure that kids say they’re over-scheduled, but I’m not buying it. It's a handy excuse. Speaking from experience, as the parents of two teenagers, they’re not all that busy—especially in the summer. Getting a license is just not as big a priority as texting and Facebooking friends. My 19-year-old took three years to get her license; my 16-year-old hemmed and hawed for months and then suddenly decided to get serious about it.
Brandon Schoettle, the survey's lead author, told me he expected to see either the cost of cars or the ability to get rides from others as the top choice. He confirmed that "rides from others" usually means mom or dad's taxi.
In defense of license-challenged teens, let me point out that the process is way more complicated than back in the day. I was licensed on the first day of eligibility, then drove 100 miles on I-95 to celebrate. I took driver’s ed in school.
Driven by concern about teen driving accidents, a 16-year-old in my state now needs 30 hours of classroom instruction (that’s 15 separate drop-offs and pick-ups), 40 hours of behind-the-wheel lessons, two hours of parent training (that's fun!), then a battery of written tests I’d probably flunk today. The DMV makes them back into parking spaces. And we had to pay $700 to a private driving place, because the schools don’t offer driver’s ed anymore.
This declining-to-drive thing, by the way, isn’t just anecdotal. According to AAA, only 44 percent of teenagers are getting their license the first year they could, and only 54 percent have licenses before turning 18.
Here are the other reasons (a/k/a excuses) teens give for not having a license (in descending order) from the University of Michigan survey:
- Owning or maintaining a vehicle is too expensive (14.6 percent)
- Able to get transportation from others (12.1 percent)
- Prefer to bike or walk (10 percent)
- Prefer to use public transportation (9.9 percent)
- Disability/medical/vision problem (6.1 percent)
- Never learned or still learning (4.5 percent)
- Able to go online instead (3.4 percent)
- Concerned about driving impacts on the environment (3.1 percent)
- Do not like to drive/afraid to drive (2.1 percent)
- Legal issue (1.8 percent)
In the survey, 22 percent said they don’t ever plan on getting a license, but 69 percent said they expect to have one in five years.
The upside of all this driver prep—years of it—is that our kids are going to be safer drivers when they finally do take the wheel. My 16-year-old is so safety-conscious she drives like my grandmother. The downside of that--both of them are critiquing me now. “You can’t see the tires of the car stopped in front of you!” they say. “You didn’t fully stop at that stop sign.”
OK, bear me with me on this video. Yes, it's in French, but believe me it's universal (and subtitled). It looks at what happens when a driving instructor tells teens that they have to pass a texting-while-driving test to get their licenses. The cones are flying!