Prevalence and Timing of Driver Licensing Among Young Adults, United States, 2019

A survey of young adults ages 18-24 finds that 41% licensed at or before age 16, and 60% before age 18. Factors associated with licensing at younger versus older ages are discussed.

October 2019

Suggested Citation

Authors

Robert D. Foss

Abstract

A survey of young adults ages 18-24 finds that 41% licensed at or before age 16, and 60% before age 18. Factors associated with licensing at younger versus older ages are discussed.

Introduction

Obtaining a driver’s license was once widely regarded as a “rite of passage” for teenagers in the United States. However, only 36% of young people surveyed in 2012 by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety reported having obtained their first driver’s license at or before the age of 16 and only 54% reported having done so before they turned 18. At that time, it was not clear whether the apparent decrease in teen licensing was a temporary effect of the Great Recession or whether it was indicative of broader societal trends. To investigate this phenomenon, the AAA Foundation in 2019 surveyed a nationally representative sample of 1,402 young adults ages 18-24 to estimate the proportion of young adults nationwide who possess a driver’s license, the ages at which they first obtained their license, and factors associated with the timing of licensure.00

Methodology

An online questionnaire was administered to a representative sample of young adults ages 18-24 in the summer of 2019.  Respondents were recruited from two pre-recruited survey research panels maintained by the research firm Ipsos: YouthPulse and Knowledge Panel. Questions covered respondents’ current licensing status, age at which they obtained their first license, and a variety of factors that might influence the age at which a person begins driving.

Results

  • Percent licensed before age 18 was 6 percentage points higher than in 2012 AAA Foundation survey, likely reflecting the lingering effects of the Great Recession of 2007-2009 and subsequent economic recovery.
  • Licensing at age 16 or younger was most common in rural areas and in the Midwest; least common in the Northeast and West.
  • Timing of licensure is strongly related to family affluence; more than 2 in 5 respondents not licensed before they turned 18 agreed that financial constraints played a role in their not getting their license sooner.

Suggested Citation

Authors

Brian Tefft

Senior Researcher, Traffic Research Group

AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety

Robert D. Foss

Robert D. Foss