Are adolescents less likely to drive nowadays?

by Rebecca Israel, MS & reviewed by Sabrina Drumond

July 23, 2020

  • Today, adolescents are less likely to have their driver's licenses compared to previous generations.

  • Some adolescents cite cost, time, and convenience as reasons for not obtaining their own license.

  • A preference for other means of transportation than a personal vehicle could help reduce the earth's greenhouse gas emissions.

adolescents and driving title

Being a young adult definitely come with its privileges. One of the first freedoms for adolescents is learning to drive. Depending on the state, adolescents take driver education courses, take a driving test, get a learner's permit, and finally receive their official driver's license.

Driving a car offers adolescents many freedoms they did not have before. They can see their friends more often, go out for milkshakes, and live their lives separate from their parent's schedules. This new-found independence is immensely attractive to most adolescents. Unexpectedly, new reports show that adolescents are in less of a rush to become drivers than previous generations.

Fewer adolescents are driving and going out

Between 2010-2016, High school seniors were less likely to have a driver's license, drive weekly, and go out without their parents than twenty years ago.

Source: The Decline in Adult Activities Among U.S. Adolescents, 1976–2016

A large study looked at a variety of adult activities among adolescents in the United States. The data came from the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System survey, which is regularly collected by the CDC. They found that, over the past 20 years, fewer high school seniors report having a driver's license, driving weekly, and going out without their parents.

The study also found a decline in other adult activities such as working for pay, drinking, and dating. This makes sense because each of these activities complement one another. Reasonably, it is easier for a high school senior with a driver's license to go to a job, a party, or take someone out on a date. It is fair to assume that the later a driver's license is obtained, the later participation in other adult activities begins.

Possible reasons for not obtaining a driver's license

Young adults without driver's licences say they are too busy to get one, have easy transportation from other people, or do not have the funds to get a car

A smaller survey of 18 to 19-year-olds wanted to understand why some adolescents are not in a rush to take their driving test. They created an online survey and collected data from nearly 200 subjects. The most common reasons were a lack of time, the ability of friends to provide rides, and the expenses involved with maintaining a car.

This study does not explain the decline in obtaining a driver's license, nor does it represent everyone who doesn't have one. However, it does give us a glimpse into the factors of decision making among this population.

Lower greenhouse gas emissions

Another theory for the lack of driving among teenagers is their environmental conscientiousness. Nowadays, young adults are increasingly aware of climate change and its effect on the earth. Scientists predict the consequences of greenhouse gasses will only worsen over time if our global carbon emissions do not decrease.

Global warming changes in the radiative balance of the Earth—the balance between energy received from the sun and emitted from Earth—that alter climate and weather patterns at global and regional scales.


By reducing the number of vehicles on the roads, adolescents are in turn reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This method, the improvement of public transportation, and popularizing carpooling can all help reduce the effects of global warming on the planet.

Greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, traps heat in the atmosphere and alters climate and weather patterns.
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