According to Federal Highway Administration data, teen drivers are waiting longer than they were a generation ago to get their driver’s licenses. There are many reasons for this trend. Times are changing. Ride share applications provide a convenient way to get around town. Thanks to a global pandemic and evolving technology an increasing amount of our daily lives can be conducted from the comfort of home. Teenagers have more options than ever before in transportation and activities.
New Era, Traditional Threats
But, what if this choice to delay driver training puts teens at a disadvantage? Are teens increasing their risk of getting into a collision by choosing to wait on getting their driver’s licenses?
It’s a question that a powerhouse group of researchers in Pennsylvania and Michigan sought to answer. Drawing from institutions like the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, the University of Philadelphia, and the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, researchers designed a study to measure the effect of getting a driver’s license at ages 16 through 25. Their results paint a clear picture of the value of getting a license before turning 18.
New drivers who wait until 18 years old or older miss out on this crucial education window
The Risks in Waiting
The topic of teen driver safety is an important one. Vehicle crashes are a leading cause of death for teenagers. Study after study shows that no driver is more likely to get into a collision than a teenager in the first year or two after receiving their license.
The fact that the transition from supervised to unsupervised driving represents such a clear risk does call the effectiveness of State graduated licensing programs into question. Most states, however, do not require graduated licensing of applicants 18 or older, a distinction that researchers believed could account for at least part of the observed disparity in safety.
They also hypothesized that waiting to get a driver’s license until 18 or older could harm teen driver safety. Believe it or not, the brilliant people were right. Teen drivers that wait until at least the age of 18 have a 27% higher crash rate than their counterparts that chose to get it at a younger age.
In addition to that, teen drivers that wait to get their licenses are also:
- More likely to receive motor vehicle citations
- More likely to fail their driving test
- More likely to be involved in a fatal collision
These are outcomes that no parent wants for their teenager, and no teenager wants for themselves.
The Power of Practice
As it turns out, there’s no substitute for professional instruction. Getting the foundational education that graduated licensing and driver’s education provides goes a long way when it comes to safety.
New drivers who wait until 18 years old or older miss out on this crucial education window. If they wait to get their license, they’ll almost certainly miss out on proctored classroom-style instruction and the supervised driving hours required in most states. Without it, even new drivers that pass their test are at a significantly greater risk of any number of negative driving outcomes.
Their results paint a clear picture of the value of getting a license before turning 18
The Power of the Parent
There might be a lot of reasons a prospective driver chooses to wait on getting their driver’s license. From worrying about the costs of obtaining a license to driving anxiety, and everything in between, teens face many challenges when deciding to commit to learning to drive.
If you’re a parent of a teenager that’s considering waiting on getting their driver’s license, for whatever reason, you should discuss the implications with them. New drivers are already at an increased risk of citations, collisions, or worse, so the sooner they can start becoming a safe driver the better. As Benjamin Franklin said, “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.”
Liam Hoch researches and writes about safe driving for DriverZ.
Having been a passenger in multiple near-catastrophic vehicle collisions, Liam knows first-hand the dangers of distracted, reckless, and unsafe driving.
Passionate about our core principles of helping to make safer drivers and, ultimately, saving lives, Liam stays at the forefront of driving safety innovation and research.