Washington — A new study blames high teenage unemployment and the rising costs of driving for the decline in younger people getting driver licenses — not texting, cellphones and lack of interest.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s Highway Loss Data Institute reviewed insurance data on insured teenage drivers and found the drop in teen driving coincided with the recent economic slowdown. At the same time, the cost of driving is rising: Auto insurer AAA says the average cost to drive 10,000 miles in a year jumped from 62 cents a mile in 2006 to 77 cents last year.
“It looks like teens just can’t afford to drive,” said Matt Moore, vice president of the insurance industry-funded group. “Paying for their own cars, gas and insurance is hard if they can’t find a job. At the same time, kids who count on Mom and Dad to help them also may be out of luck if their parents have been affected by the recession.”
The study showed states with higher teen unemployment rates had fewer insured young drivers, Moore said.
In Michigan, the number of teen drivers fell sharply for three straight years during the recent economic downturn. But it rebounded this year as the economy continued to improve.
In 2009, Michigan had 460,000 drivers 19 and younger, according the Secretary of State’s Office. Over the next three years, that number fell to 427,000, down about 7 percent. But at the end of last month, there were 449,386 licensed teen drivers — up 5 percent.
A similar decline in insured teen drivers was recorded nationwide, falling 12 percent between 2006 and 2012. That decline coincided with a rise in unemployment for teenagers: The nationwide unemployment rate for that age group rose by 11 percentage points during the deepest part of the recession, compared with 5 percentage points for those ages 35-54.
Automakers have worried that with texting and the Internet, some young people aren’t as interested in getting a driver’s license.
“It is possible that the availability of virtual contact through electronic means reduces the need for actual contact among young people,” said Michael Sivak, research professor at the U-M Transportation Research Institute. “Furthermore, some young people feel that driving interferes with texting and other electronic communication.”
And there are other reasons that teens are putting off getting licenses. Most states have imposed graduated driver license programs that mean it can take years to get an unrestricted license. Starting in 2011, beginning teen drivers in Michigan faced limits on the number of passengers and shorter nighttime driving hours.
States also are requiring more training for young drivers. Many states, including Michigan, ended free driver education programs administered by local school districts, meaning that young drivers and their families must pay for private driver training. Other states have raised the minimum age at which drivers can be licensed. But those rule changes took place, in large part, before 2006.
“The results of this study indicate that the recession was the most significant factor in the decline to the level of insured teens between 2006 and 2012,” the study found.
As more teens start driving again as the economy recovers, the Highway Loss Data Institute is concerned the number of traffic deaths may increase.