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Should You Get Your Driver’s License as a Teenager or an Adult?

Published February 12, 2022
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This article has been reviewed by licensed insurance industry expert, Moshe Fishman.

Teenagers Wait to Get their Driver's Licenses

Remember when you were 16 and couldn’t wait to get your driver’s license? Or are you a teenager waiting to drive? You might be surprised to learn that more teenagers over the past few decades are deciding to delay getting their driver’s licenses. What used to be a highly anticipated event and pass to freedom is being delayed by U.S. teens 16 to 19 years old.

According to Insurance Journal, Green Car Congress noted this trend while analyzing Federal Highway Administration data showing a noticeable decrease of teen drivers. This research shows only 61% of U.S. 18 year-olds in 2018 got their license “down from 80% in 1983.” During the same time period, 16-year-olds with a driver’s license also dropped from 46% to 25%.

Reasons why some may be delaying this rite of passage, especially in recent years, include not having a car, expensive gas prices, rideshares, not being interested, and even stress. However, a Yale study points to additional reasons including “minority race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, urbanicity, and parenting factors.” Unfortunately, they’re missing out on the benefits of graduated driver licensing (GDL) as this is reserved for those under 18 years of age.

With stats on high teenage accident rates and being more easily distracted with cell phones and friends, delaying could be the right choice. Or maybe not. Some researchers point to GDL limits for the delay, which results in older teens (19+) “having less driving experience and higher crash risk” than younger teens.

So, should you get your license as a young teen or wait? Here’s some information to help teens and their families decide when the time is right.

The Pros and Cons of Driving as a Teenager

Once you become 16, getting your license is possible. But if you’re a teenager, your sixteenth birthday may not mean you feel ready to take on the responsibility of driving. Ready or not, there are advantages and disadvantages to consider.

Pros:

  • The licensing process – States’ graduated driver licensing (GDL) requirements are in place to help the youngest of drivers learn to drive safely with both education and limits. The restrictions placed on new drivers give teens time to gradually experience different situations and are effective in lowering accidents involving teens. Limits are determined by state laws and typically include mandatory driving practice and restrictions on passengers and night driving.
  • Parental guidance – Parents play a bigger role in influencing safe driving habits during the teenage years. By getting involved in the learning-to-drive process, parents can help mentor teens through role modeling, driving practice, coaching, and talking about safety.
  • Driver education – Taking a professional driver’s education course can teach teens how to drive safely, follow traffic laws, and operate a vehicle safely. Check with your state’s DMV for more information on driving schools and what should be included in driver’s education.

Cons:

  • Safety issues – Unfortunately, studies show that teenagers are the most likely to be distracted while driving and be involved in fatal accidents. Other factors like not wearing their seatbelt, inexperience, night driving, alcohol/drug use, and speeding are reasons many teens are involved in accidents.
  • Accident rates: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that car accidents are the 2nd highest cause of death among U.S. teens. In addition, “per mile driven, teen drivers aged 16–19 are nearly three times as likely as drivers aged 20 or older to be in a fatal crash.”
  • Driving expenses – Driving is expensive. Expenses like a car payment, gas, maintenance, and insurance costs can make anyone think twice about the necessity of a driver’s license—especially with a part-time or low-wage job.
  • High insurance costs – Teenagers pay the highest auto insurance rates based on their age and inexperience. These factors make them riskier than other age groups.

The Pros and Cons of Waiting Until Adulthood to Drive

So, is waiting to drive over the age of 18 a better decision? There are many discussions around why waiting may be a good idea. But not everyone agrees. Here is a list of benefits and drawbacks that could help you decide.

Pros:

  • Reduced transportation expenses – Paying for car expenses can be costly as opposed to using a shared ride service like Uber or Lyft. Waiting until you have a full time or better paying job can help support getting around in your own wheels.
  • Environment-friendly consciousness – Some teens who wait to drive cite wanting to use public transportation as a more mindful choice in support of environmental-friendly options.
  • Lower insurance costs – Age is a factor that insurance companies use to determine what you will pay for coverage. The youngest of drivers typically pay the most expensive premiums.
  • Recent technologies – Newer cars feature safety innovations that alert drivers of potential hazards like lane switching or potential forward collisions. In addition, newer AI applications can also help drivers be more focused by preventing them from being distracted behind the wheel.

Cons:

  • Dependence on others – Without a license to drive, you may find yourself becoming more dependent on others to get where you want to go. This can cramp your style and restrict your freedom to get around.
  • No structured driver’s education or GDL – If you are a new driver over the age of 18, you are not subject to required formal driver’s education programs. In addition, you won’t be restricted by graduated driver licensing laws that limit your nighttime driving, passenger number, etc. Unfortunately, the lack of these safety measures could possibly make you more susceptible to riskier situations while driving.

Making the Choice

Getting your driver’s license is a big decision. There are many factors to consider based on your own situation. Be sure to take your time deciding and weighing out the benefits and disadvantages based on your readiness to get on the road. Discuss the decision with your parents to determine when driving may be best for you.

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