Young woman driving a car.
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American Teens Are Driving Less, and the Reasons Are More Than Economic

Financial, legal, and technological changes are all part of the equation. So is anxiety.

Edie Meade
Published in
10 min readJan 13, 2020


American teenagers today are getting their driver’s licenses at far lower rates than previous generations. Why?

As a parent of two teenage boys, I am witnessing the phenomenon firsthand. The factors involved include financial stress, changes to the way states issue and regulate licenses for teens, and the huge cultural shift in social habits because of the internet.

But I also see something else going on in the thinking of my sons and their friends: They not only have more difficulty getting a license, they have more difficulty getting behind the wheel.

They say they don’t want to drive.

Their sentiments reflect a broader generational trend that will have long-term negative consequences on millions of people.

Lower driving rates: “It’s the economy, stupid.”

Many teens and young adults have said they never intend to get a license. The reasons are complex, but as with every other significant social shift, economic factors play a dominant role.

The most recent Federal Highway Administration data shows that just over a quarter (25.6 percent) of 16-year-olds became licensed drivers in 2018, and only 61 percent of teens had their licenses by age 18.

The rates are substantially lower compared to 1983, according to analysis by the energy website Green Car Congress. That analysis, conducted by authors Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, was a follow-up on the trend they recognized in the wake of the onset of the recession a decade ago.

The FHA has also tracked this trend since the onset of the 2008 financial crash, which had a long-term debilitating impact on family wealth. It noted then that “economic factors — employment status, household income, and the like — strongly influence the travel behavior of both adults and youth, the latter of which has been harder hit by our current, prolonged economic downturn.”



Edie Meade
The Startup

A compassionate and opinionated human being. | Fiction author and visual artist in Central Appalachia. | Give my newsletter a try: