Study: Fewer Young People Getting Driver's License

Many young adults put off getting a driver's license because they say they are too busy.

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The number of young adults with a driver's license has been decreasing over the last several decades, and nearly half of those people are unemployed, according to a new study from researchers at the University of Michigan.

Brandon Schoettle, the lead author of the study, found in a survey of more than 600 people between the ages of 18 and 39 that more than one in three said they put off getting a license because they don't have enough time. Another 32 percent said they delayed the process due to the cost of owning and maintaining a vehicle, and nearly 40 percent said they preferred to ride a bike, walk or take public transportation. 

[SEE: The 10 Best States for Teen Drivers]

Schoettle told U.S. News that one unexpected result of the survey was a trend showing that unlicensed young adults tend to have higher levels of unemployment than their peers who do have a driver's license. About 46 percent of all respondents said they were unemployed. By comparison, unemployment for the same age group in the overall United States population is 10.5 percent.

While it is unknown if there is a direct correlation between unemployment and having a driver's license, or if one leads to the other, Schoettle says it is clear that the recession may have hurt young people's ability to buy a car more than other age groups, therefore delaying the need for a driver's license.

What was once a teenager's summer job is now often a full-time job for an older adult, removing opportunities for younger people to save to buy a car.

"Things sort of snowball from there, and the more buildup that occurs, the longer someone puts off getting a license," Schoettle says.

[SEE: The 10 Worst States for Teen Drivers]

Schoettle, along with Michael Sivak of the University of Michigan's Transportation Research Institute, found in a previous study that between 1983 and 2008 the number of licensed drivers aged 16 to 18 decreased by at least 15 percent, and that a noticeable decline was also present for drivers into their mid-40s.

But Schoettle said some of the results of the survey may point to a slight turnaround in the economy, as 69 percent of the adults surveyed said they have plans get a driver's license within the next five years.

"There have been some societal changes where the ownership of a car on a list of priorities is just not as high as it had traditionally been," Schoettle says. "But as things turn around, people may change their plans and say 'Now I do want a license.'"

The decline in the number of young drivers can be beneficial for safety reasons, Schoettle says, as younger drivers tend to be more inexperienced, "don't make the best choices" and have higher accident rates.

"As you get this big drop off in licensed young individuals, those people not being on road has a natural spill-over to reduced accident rates, and accidents caused in general, by younger, inexperienced drivers," Schoettle says.

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