The share of teens with driver’s licenses peaked in 1983, when 72 percent of Americans aged 16–19 were legally approved to drive. Today, only about 50 percent are.
The decline has stupefied many a baby boomer and Gen Xer, who can’t imagine why young people today don’t want to hit the open road. Writing in The Atlantic in May 2018, Penn State professor Gary Cross fretted about the loss of that “magical age of 16, when suddenly a world opened up.” The Washington Post in 2015 dedicated more than 2,000 words to how America’s love affair with cars was “cruising towards oblivion” because those damn kids don’t want to drive.
What do teens actually say? According to a University of Michigan survey, the two most common reasons given for not having a driver’s license were being “too busy” to get one (37 percent) and thinking that owning a car “is too expensive” (32 percent). Most of the teens surveyed (70 percent) said they planned to get a license eventually.