Getting a driver's license was once viewed as a rite of passage. Now, more young people are putting it off.
By Laura Adams
In many states, COVID-19 has caused a significant interruption in the process of getting a driver’s license. It follows that a recent Aceable survey found that 71% of parents with a teen said their child’s driving education been delayed by the pandemic.
As of December 2020, 43% of parents said their 15- or 16-year-old teen had not completed the necessary education to get behind the wheel.
Why are fewer teens getting a driver’s license?
Several factors are contributing to lower driver’s licensing rates for teenagers. One is that stay-at-home mandates designed to tamp the virus’s spread caused the cancellation of many in-person classes.
While many states permitted online driver’s education before the pandemic, additional states now allow it due to the outbreak. However, the Aceable survey showed that even the convenience of getting driver’s ed online didn’t motivate many teens to complete it.
According to the Federal Highway Administration, fewer teens who qualify to drive will get a driver’s license. In 2018, only a quarter of 16-year-olds could legally drive. That’s almost half of the number of 16-year-olds who were licensed to drive in 1984.
Part of the trend of young people delaying driving can be attributed to more restrictive laws, making it more challenging to get a license than in the mid-80s. Now, you must complete graduated licensing, which requires new drivers to successfully navigate multiple testing phases before they qualify for a full driver’s license.
How can new drivers get licensed during the pandemic?
The graduated driver’s licensing laws vary by state. However, in most cases, new drivers must first get a learner’s permit, requiring passing a vision test and a driver’s ed course. Then they must practice driving with the supervision of a licensed adult, and typically only during the day, for a period.
Then, prospective drivers graduate to an intermediate license, which requires a behind-the-wheel road test and restricted driving, such as only driving with one passenger or having adult supervision when driving at night.
Some states, such as Georgia, temporarily waived road test requirements. However, drivers who got a pass must eventually complete the test or risk having their licenses revoked.
Other states, such as Florida, require road tests to be conducted while examiners remain outside of vehicles. They rely on communication devices such as Facetime, cell phones, or walkie-talkies to give exam instructions during the pandemic.
If drivers don’t get into an accident or have moving violations during the learner’s and intermediate licensing periods, they qualify for a full driver’s license.
What are parents saying about teen driving?
The Aceable survey found that 76% of parents believe the pandemic caused their teen to be less motivated to get a driver’s license. In families with a teen who hasn’t completed a driver’s education course, only 59% of parents said their teen showed an interest in driving.
Those teens may believe getting a driver’s license would not significantly improve their quality of life, such as having more freedom to socialize or landing a part-time job. They may be satisfied connecting with friends online or having their parents provide transportation when needed. Some may be unable to afford expenses related to driving, such as purchasing auto insurance, fuel, and ongoing vehicle maintenance.
Of parents with a teen who has completed “driver’s ed,” 59% said that having more freedom was a motivating factor for their young driver. Even with COVID restrictions, many teens do want autonomy and more mobility. Achieving the milestone of becoming a driver and driving themselves to work were other top motivators for their teen, according to 49% of parents.
Getting a job plays a significant role in a teen’s motivation to drive. The Aceable survey found that 71% of teens who completed driver’s education have a job. That’s a stark contrast to 19% of teens who have a job but don’t have a driver’s license.
The pandemic may have strengthened the relationship between working and driving due to many opportunities for young people that require transportation, such as delivering groceries or restaurant meals.
If you or a family member are ready for a driver’s license, you can complete the driver’s ed portion entirely online in many states. Since every state has been affected by the pandemic differently and has unique safety rules, check your state’s motor vehicle department for up-to-date licensing information.
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