Transportation

Drivers Licences and Driving Falling Among Young People

By Ryan McGreal
Published June 01, 2010

Now this is interesting: the share of 16- to 19-year-olds with drivers licences is in decline.

Drivers Licence Rate by Age, 1978 and 2008
Age 1978 2008
16 50% 31%
17 75% 49%
18 86% 68%
19 92% 77%

The trend appears to extend through the 20s as well:

The share of automobile miles driven by people ages 21 to 30 in the U.S. fell to 13.7% in 2009 from 18.3% in 2001 and 20.8% in 1995 ...

Meanwhile, Census data show the proportion of people ages 21-30 increased from 13.3% to 13.9%, so 20-somethings actually went from driving a disproportionate amount of the nation's highway miles in 1995 to under-indexing for driving in 2009.

That is, 21- to 30-year-olds now make up a larger share of the total population but their share of driving is falling.

To explain this, the article author turns to William Draves, a higher education consultant, who argues that we can thank the internet for this shift:

His theory is that almost everything about digital media and technology makes cars less desirable or useful and public transportation a lot more relevant.

Texting while driving is dangerous and increasingly illegal, as is watching mobile TV or working on your laptop. All, at least under favorable wireless circumstances, work fine on the train.

The internet and mobile devices also have made telecommuting increasingly common, displacing both cars and public transit.

In a broader sense, the author cites other analysts arguing that the automobile no longer represents "freedom" to young people in the way that it once did.

While it's tempting to assume that the shift is due in part to the economy, the author notes that the trend predates the recession by several years. (On the other hand, the steady rise in oil prices over the past decade may be a factor.)

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.

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By cycliste (anonymous) | Posted June 01, 2010 at 16:23:35

How interesting. One factor, at least in Ontario, would likely be the introduction of Graduated Licensing.

While it is still far too easy to "earn" and retain a driver's license, graduated licensing may present an obstacle, whether real or perceived, to youths who might aspire to have a license.

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By alrathbone (registered) | Posted June 01, 2010 at 16:40:55

I would've gone with insurance premiums. Most people I know in University without a car simple can't afford to pay to drive one (guys especially).

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By Jonathan Dalton (registered) | Posted June 01, 2010 at 16:58:50

I agree with insurance costs. At one point in my life, I paid more for insurance than I did for rent, and that's just insane. One of my biggest regrets in life is the amount of money I pissed away on car expenses when I was younger.

Yet today it continues to get worse. A couple years ago I worked with a new driver who ended up paying over $600/month to insure his new car that he leased for $600/month - in total, more than half of his income just to cover the fixed costs of running a car.

Ok, last anecdotal example. I know another young driver who was evicted from his place after falling 6 months behind on his rent, all while buying gas and insurance for his car - which he mostly just drove around town. He honestly believed one could not be considered a respectable adult male without owning a car.

Car culture really is perverse, but it can only cost us so much before we start looking for an exit ramp somewhere.

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By Michelle Martin (registered) - website | Posted June 01, 2010 at 19:00:36

The decline doesn't surprise me in the least.

I never got a license as a student in the eighties, because I rode my bike everywhere in Oakville (my hometown) and because I went to U of T and took the subway everywhere, plus Go transit home on weekends. Didn't get it until I was 27 years old, because you generally need one in my line of work, it makes you more employable. The cost of insurance for a second driver aged 27 years old was not prohibitive for us.

My oldest kids (ages 22, 21 and 18) don't have their licenses, because they can't afford to pay for their own insurance. We could afford to add them to ours (barely), but we definitely couldn't afford the increased rates if one or more of them got into a fender bender... Trouble is, some student jobs, even summer ones, require a driver's license. So far they've made out alright, though. They've always had jobs and they use the HSR and their own two feet.

Our society is a strange one-- people complain that students have a sense of entitlement. Yet there are student jobs that are temporary and pay only minimum wage but where it is expected that student employees will be insured to drive. How's a student supposed to insure him- or herself while saving for higher education without relying on mom and dad to pick up the tab?

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By Meredith (registered) - website | Posted June 01, 2010 at 19:37:28

One of the main reasons I enjoyed Toronto so much compared to growing up in St. Catharines was that a driver's license didn't represent adulthood or freedom in Toronto. Conversely, the lack of a car or license didn't mean something was wrong with you in Toronto.

Four months before moving to Hamilton I took a three-month position that required we buy a second car. (I thought we'd keep it afterwards, of course)...Incurred enormous expenses buying the car and related... it was wretched.

When that job was over and we ended up moving here, getting rid of it was such a relief. There's more story there than finances (not involving accidents.. lol!) But to be in a city that didn't require DRIVING everywhere is something I cherish. Ended up selling the other car within a year.

However, the reality of Hamilton is that here, a license represents freedom and adulthood in much the same way that it did where I grew up, and I'm constantly amazed at how people think adult life is impossible without a car, and how people I've known for a year or two are only now realizing that we don't have a car... and why. But many of them still expect that we'll "come to our senses" when we have kids and move out of downtown, buy a couple cars and drive 'em to soccer and hockey every day.

Meanwhile my tension is between

  • looking to buy in a walkable neighbourhood near amenities where we don't need to drive much for everyday activities, and definitely don't need two cars

  • or looking to buy in a neighbourhood where our presence could be more transformative and helpful, and we could get more house... but the poverty means amenities are few and driving is necessary to get anything of quality I'd find acceptable, from coffee to books to piano lessons to daycare to school...

Meanwhile, parents continue to subsidize their children's insurance, living expenses and more without realizing how much this delays the opportunity for their children to become independent adults.. and car culture extends adolescence out of financial necessity...

And I know a lot of younger people who've never had the chance to get their licenses (lack of opportunity), and we're not building a city that's helping them become adults even if they gasp don't drive.

Comment edited by Meredith on 2010-06-01 18:44:14

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By highwater (registered) | Posted June 01, 2010 at 20:08:22

I never got a license as a student in the eighties, because I rode my bike everywhere in Oakville (my hometown) and because I went to U of T and took the subway everywhere, plus Go transit home on weekends. Didn't get it until I was 27 years old, because you generally need one in my line of work...

Exact same here. I didn't get my license till I was 30 when I got a job in a rural area.

One of the main reasons I enjoyed Toronto so much compared to growing up in St. Catharines was that a driver's license didn't represent adulthood or freedom in Toronto. Conversely, the lack of a car or license didn't mean something was wrong with you in Toronto.

We were living in St. Catharines when I was pregnant with my first. In one of our pre-natal classes, the nurse asked what the most basic needs for a baby were, and one of the women promptly responded "a car". When the nurse politely tried to explain that she was talking about Maslow's hierarchy of needs, ie. air, food, water, the woman was insistent. "But you can't take a baby on a bus! You can't get anywhere without a car!"

If ever you are despairing of how far behind Hamilton seems sometimes, just spend some time in St. Catharines. It'll cheer you right up.

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By bigguy1231 (registered) | Posted June 02, 2010 at 03:48:36

I think alot of the reason that young people are not getting their licenses is cost plain and simple. Gas prices are still relatively cheap but insurance costs for a new driver are just ridiculous.

One of the guys I work with just got his DL. He is 28 years old and had a license for a couple of years in his teens while living in California. He let it lapse when he moved here. He will be paying $530 a month on a 10 year old vehicle. I told him he was crazy for even bothering. You could just about take a cab everywhere you want to go for a year with that amount of money. I am lucky I only pay just over $100 a month for a newer vehicle. I just can't imagine paying such ridiculous amounts for insurance.

Michelle, I think you hit on another point about the lack of decent paying jobs for young people also contributing to the decline in young drivers. When I was a student way back when I was lucky enough to work at Stelco. I made huge bucks working there during the summer months. Enough to buy myself a new car the first summer, pay my tuition and live for the whole school year without working part time. I did that for 5 years and had quite the nest egg when I finally left school. I feel bad for kids today having to work for low wages and worrying about having enough just to get by.

Comment edited by bigguy1231 on 2010-06-02 02:50:11

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By Michelle Martin (registered) - website | Posted June 02, 2010 at 07:19:25

When the nurse politely tried to explain that she was talking about Maslow's hierarchy of needs, ie. air, food, water, the woman was insistent. "But you can't take a baby on a bus! You can't get anywhere without a car!"

When we lived in our first apartment across from the subway on Bloor West in TO, I took the baby on the subway (pediatrician was at the St. George . When we lived in a town house in Mississauga for a couple of years (no license for me at the time), I remember taking two toddlers on the bus to the doctor (had to wait for it on Dundas Street, near Dixie-- hair- raising traffic, let me tell you). Had to transfer to get there. Was late once and snarked at by the receptionist. Switched back to our old pediatrician in Toronto (more pleasant office by far)-- made arrangements for a drive there, until I got my license, then drove there myself (I'd drive my husband to work on those days, to have use of our one car). In that situation, access to a car meant that I was free to choose a medical practice where I would be treated well and with respect.

Comment edited by Michelle Martin on 2010-06-02 06:20:46

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By Borrelli (registered) | Posted June 02, 2010 at 14:28:33

Wow, that's some EXPENSIVE insurance--I think it's time you look into other companies. I'm paying ~$125/mo to have me and my partner insured on our little car, and it's slowly gotten cheaper over the past 3 years.

But to my point, really interesting numbers there, Ryan. I was curious to see what the situation was like here in Canada, since those are US #s, and I found that the same thing is NOT occurring here. By my best estimates (worked out w/ Excel in an hour at work), it seems as though the number of 16-24 yr olds licensed in all provinces has modestly increased over the period 2003-07 (the only numbers I could easily access from Transport Canada). The increase looks to me to be about an extra 65,000 drivers (about a 2% increase) in that age range over that period of time, while everything I can find on that age subgroup indicates it is decreasing as a portion of the (aging) population. I can't give comparable numbers like the US stats due to the data limitations, sorry.

Either way, obviously our two nations have very different geographies, access to transit, etc. that can account for those differences, and I would agree with most of the posters above who named cost as a prime deterrent (though I think insurance is cheaper in the US). I also wonder what the effect of immigration is, especially on that 21-30 cohort that shows a lower proportion of miles driven--there is a significant portion of the US population that CANNOT get a license because of their "illegal" status, and I imagine those people are more heavily represented in that 21-30 age group.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted June 02, 2010 at 14:34:31

In that situation, access to a car meant that I was free to choose a medical practice where I would be treated well and with respect.

Hey, not sayin' cars aren't handy, especially with young kids, just sayin' it takes a whacked out sense of entitlement to put them in the same category as food, air, and water. ;)

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By Michelle Martin (registered) - website | Posted June 02, 2010 at 18:28:22

Hey, not sayin' cars aren't handy, especially with young kids, just sayin' it takes a whacked out sense of entitlement to put them in the same category as food, air, and water. ;)

Oh, absolutely. I should have developed that comment a little more and not rushed it on before I left for work. It was more a comment on income gaps and what they mean in places where transit isn't so great. Also, to remind everyone to spare a thought and an offer of assistance or at least an encouraging smile if they encounter a struggling mother on the HSR :).

Comment edited by Michelle Martin on 2010-06-02 17:29:34

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted June 03, 2010 at 14:19:09

For most young people I know, spanning the range of very poor working class kids to ones from fairly affluent families, simply cannot afford a car without help from their parents, especially guys. It becomes a question of living on your own or having a car and living with your parents. In Hamilton, it's almost always possible for a 21-year-old male to get an appartment for less than insurance. Once you factor in car payments, gas and repairs, you could easily own a house. And I too have seen horror stories...people who have been cycling everywhere for years and are only now paying off (with fairly "good" jobs which pay well) cars they haven't seen in years. Hold onto that car for a year too long, and the repair bills alone can ruin a young person financially, especially if your car HAS to be back on the road in a day or two for work.

I'd suspect the drop in acceptability of drinking and driving has a lot to do with the decreases in driving as much as any factor. In many circles, even thoroughly "disreputable" ones, it simply is not acceptable among young people today; thank you MADD. I once watched a party full of anarchist street punks and drug dealers call the police because they'd been unable to stop a drunk guy from driving away (he wrapped the car around a pole before even getting to the next bar). The fewer people who own or bring cars to parties, pubs and bars put more and more pressure on a few designated drivers, and I can tell ya from personal experience that driving your drunk friends around regularly gets old fast. And as you lose out on the opportunity to show off your fancy car in social circumstances (like the Toronto club district on a Saturday night), the social impetus to own one drops a lot, especially high-end sports cars and SUVs.

The rising cost and complexity of cars doesn't help, either. In 1978 you could often buy a "beater" for less than many now pay a month in insurance. And because they didn't have onboard computers, anyone with a socket set and a few high school auto shop classes could keep one running. Now even people I know who've worked as mechanics can't keep their cars working without a shop.

A young person in Hamilton can typically pick up an old 10-speed bike for $20-50 at a garage sale or bike co-op, maintain it for a few dozen bucks a year in oil, inner tubes and replacement parts (often available for less than the price of coffee). And that allows them to cruise, without paying for gas, at 20-30 km/h with very little effort, more than fast enough to compete with cars in an urban setting. They don't need a licence, are subject to far fewer laws and obnoxious police stops (not to mention the main penalty for not paying tickets is suspension of one's driver's licence), are faster, cheaper and easier to park, and much safer to drive home after you've had a few at the bar (at least for other road users). Vintage bikes are quite hip (fixed conversions, cruisers etc), dirt cheap and not hard to shine up (some new bar tape/grips, a new seat or even a coat of spray paint), unlike either new or vintage cars. And since a flashy bike can be chained right up to (some) Hess Villiage patio fences, and slim physiques get ya at least as many girls/guys as a nice car, it isn't hard to see why the times are-a-changin'.

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By Michelle Martin (registered) - website | Posted June 03, 2010 at 20:40:09

Now even people I know who've worked as mechanics can't keep their cars working without a shop.

True, that. I remember when my husband was able to fix our car with a Haines Manual and a group of friendly neighbours, who could hear the sound of the hood popping from down the street, and couldn't resist the opportunity to advise and assist. Now everything needs a diagnostic run.

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By frank (registered) | Posted June 08, 2010 at 12:42:13

Highwater wrote: If ever you are despairing of how far behind Hamilton seems sometimes, just spend some time in St. Catharines. It'll cheer you right up.

Negatory, in St. Catharines you can talk to the people you walk past on the street without having to shout because of the traffic noise, there's a real initiative with respect to recycling/green bins unlike here, builders don't hold the councillors by the short and curlies...in short, while you may need (or feel you need) a vehicle, it's a far more livable place than here.

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By Jay (registered) | Posted December 27, 2010 at 01:34:18

I LIVE in St. Catharines and cannot drive due to medical condition I have. Since this happened, I have not had a single job offer, as people that do not drive are viewed very negatively here. They think something is wrong with you if you don't drive and they believe you don't have any skills. I would move from here if I could, but I cannot afford to given that I am unable to find work that pays more than minimum wage (despite having a Masters degree).

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By weatherford texas (anonymous) | Posted December 07, 2011 at 17:09:32

if you can buy a car/truck with out a license and get transferd in onto your name, get tags, insuerance and inspection. then what makes the u.s. think you have to have a license to drive?

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By lol (registered) | Posted June 18, 2012 at 21:53:04

your data shows that people are putting off getting their drivers license till a later age. You are trying to suggest that the reason is that they do not want to drive. In the real world youngsters want that car more than ever but they and their families just cannot afford it (just read the posts)The decline in miles driven is the exact same thing. We have not lost our love affair with the automobile indeed the exact opposite is the truth. Because so many of our young people cannot afford a car until later in life they covet it more than we ever did when we were young. We just took it for granted that we would get a car when we were in our late teens.

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