Number Of Licensed Teen Drivers On The Rise

New AAA Foundation Study Shows More Teens Are Obtaining Their License Before Age 18

teen driver gets keys

More than 60% of teens got their driver’s license before the age of 18, according to new research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. An 11% increase since 2012.

The new report, released during National Teen Driver Safety Week, Oct. 20-26, reveals a changing trend in teen licensure from when the Foundation first evaluated the issue in 2012. At the time, the country was just emerging from a recession and many young people cited their family’s inability to afford the high cost of driving as a reason why they did not obtain their license sooner.

“The trend for teens to acquire their driver’s license has changed over the past 10 years,” said Dr. David Yang, executive director of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. “Many are getting licensed before the age of 18, which means more of Generation Z is learning to drive under the protection of state graduated driver licensing programs and parental supervision.”

The new AAA Foundation study surveyed young adults ages 18-24 to determine when they obtained their license and found that nationally, 40.8% got their license at or before age 16 and 60.3% got their license before the age of 18. Other findings show:

  • Only half (49.8%) of teens in large cities obtain their license before the age of 18, compared with nearly two-thirds of those in less urbanized areas.
  • Teens living in the Midwest tend to be licensed at younger ages -- 55% at or before age 16 and 70% before age 18. While only one-third (32.2%) of teens living in the West and fewer than a quarter (22.3%) of teens in the Northeast reported getting their license at or before age 16, only 56% (Northeast) and 48% (West) did so before age 18.

Past AAA Foundation research found that for every mile driven, new teen drivers ages 16-17 years old are three times as likely as adults to be involved in a deadly crash. All states have graduated driver licensing (GDL) systems for teen drivers to help them gradually learn the rules of the road under less risky conditions. The programs require minimum holding periods and practice requirements for teens with learner’s permits, followed by restricted licenses that limit driving at night or with peer passengers

“The fact that more teens are starting to drive at an age when they can gradually learn the necessary skills to be safe behind the wheel is great news for all drivers,” said Jennifer Ryan, AAA director of state relations. “Past trends of waiting until turning 18 to be licensed was a cause for concern. Many of these young drivers were getting behind the wheel with minimal knowledge or support, putting themselves and others at risk.”

In California, teen motor vehicle fatalities (age 16-19) increased 2.7 percent from 219 in 2015 to 225 in 2016.  Teen driver fatalities (age 16-19) increased 12.3 percent from 98 in 2015 to 110 in 2016 in the Golden State, according to the Office of Traffic Safety’s statistics. 

To highlight the risk of novice drivers to themselves and others, recently in Oxnard, Calif., a teen driver fatally struck a boy, 8, and injured two others in a marked crosswalk near a school.  The teenager did not have a California driver’s license – provisional or otherwise -  to operate the van she was driving to drop off a family member’s children off at school.

A previous AAA Foundation study found that drivers first licensed at age 18 are more likely to be involved in a crash resulting in injuries during their first year of solo driving than new drivers licensed at any other age. Nearly 28% of the young adults in the AAA Foundation survey reported waiting until they were 18 or older to get their license. Reasons young adults cited for delaying licensure included:

  • Nervous about driving (68.4%)
  • They could do everything they needed without driving (52.6%)
  • Driving was too expensive (33.3%)
  • Too busy to get a license (28.9%)
  • Family members did not have time to help them get their license (20.5%)

By setting parameters, new drivers can greatly minimize their risk of a crash. AAA recommends that regardless of their age when first learning to drive, new drivers should remember to “R.E.A.D the road”:

  • R = Right speed, for right now: Always mind the speed limit and reduce your speed when traveling in adverse weather conditions.
  • E = Eyes up, brain on: Always scan the road to anticipate dangers ahead.  Eliminate distractions and keep your mind focused on the task of driving.
  • A = Anticipate their next move: Be aware of other drivers on the road. Anticipate their next move and always have a plan to respond.
  • D = Huge DONUT of space around your vehicle: Keep large amounts of space to the front and sides of your vehicle.

“Parents and guardians are the most effective in-car coaches as well as managers of their teen’s driving privileges,” said the Automobile Club of Southern California’s Traffic Safety Manager Anita Lorz Villagrana. “Adults with novice drivers in the family should enroll their teen in a driver education program that introduces and teaches driver safety skills. The Auto Club Driving School is one program that can do this.” 

AAA’s TeenDriving.AAA.com has numerous tools to help prepare new drivers for the rules of the road, including California’s teen driver permit and licensing requirements, as well as a parent-teen driving agreement that sets family rules for teen drivers to follow, and an online driving school.

Media Contacts

Elaine Beno
(714) 885-2324
Beno.Elaine@aaa-calif.com
Doug Shupe
LA-based media contact
512-659-1632
shupe.doug@aaa-calif.com