An interesting article by Lisa Hymas in Grist today notes that, “In 2008, just 31 percent of American 16-year-olds had their driver’s licenses, down from 46 percent in 1983, according to a new study in the journal Traffic Injury Prevention.” The numbers were down for other groups too: According to the study, about 87 percent of 19-year-olds in 1983 had their licenses, but 25 years later, that percentage had dropped to about 75 percent. Other teen driving groups also have declined: 18-year-olds fell from 80 percent in 1983 to 65 percent in 2008, 17-year-olds decreased from 69 percent to 50 percent, and 16-year-olds slipped from 46 percent to 31 percent. Drivers in their 20s and 30s also saw their ranks fall as a percentage of their age group population — down nearly 10 percentage points for 20-somethings and down about five percentage points for the 30-somethings.
I grew up in a very walkable community in New Jersey and for years I have been telling anyone who’ll listen that the best thing about growing up in a town like that is that young people have freedom to get around on foot or on bike without begging parents for rides, getting their own car, or getting rides from other teenagers who are known to be higher-risk drivers than other age groups because of their inexperience. With the predominance of cell phones and texting right now, the teen demographic is even less safe behind the wheel than it used to be. While campaigns against drunk driving and cell phone use while driving are undoubtedly important safety measures, one of the most important things we can do as a society is to simply make it easier for people to get around without driving.