Young Driver Crash Rates in New Jersey by Driving Experience, Age, and License Phase

This study quantifies the relationship between the age at which drivers obtain their first license and their rates of crash involvement over time as they begin driving independently using data from the state of New Jersey.

October 2014

Suggested Citation

For media inquiries, contact:

Tamra Johnson


  • Allison E. Curry

  • Melissa R. Pfeiffer

  • Dennis R. Durbin

  • Michael R. Elliott

  • Konny H. Kim

This project examined novice driver crash involvement by age at initial licensure in 3 states, 2 of which (North Carolina & California) do not apply graduated driver licensing (GDL) restrictions to drivers 18 and older; the other, New Jersey, is unique in the United States for doing so. The goal was to assess how crash rates are affected when new drivers get licensed at older vs. younger ages, and provide insight into whether New Jersey’s approach to GDL might offer safety benefits if applied in other states.

The Situation

  • Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for U.S. teenagers
  • Despite the traditional view that teens are eager to begin driving as soon as possible, evidence of young adults voluntarily delaying licensure has raised a number of questions in recent years
  • Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) systems – which have reduced 16- and 17- year-old driver crashes – generally do not apply to drivers ages 18 and older
  • Concern persists that if teens are delaying licensure, many may not be covered by GDL protections

Timing of Driver’s License Acquisition and Reasons for Delay among Young People in the United States, 2012


  • Determine proportion of teens licensed within 12 months of home state minimum age, and by 18th birthday
  • Investigate reasons for delay (e.g., financial constraints, GDL concerns) and demographic factors (e.g., household income)


  • Nationally-representative survey of 1,039 persons ages 18-20
  • Online questionnaire (English and Spanish) addressed:
  • Current license status
  • Ages when permit and license were obtained
  • Reasons for delay (19 items; each could be rated a very important reason, somewhat important reason, minor reason, or not a reason)
  • Opinions about driver licensing policies

Key Findings – Licensure Status and Timing of Licensure:

  • 44% licensed within 12 months of minimum age in their state
  • 54% licensed before 18th birthday
  • 29% still not licensed at time of survey (12% had learner’s permit)
  • Key Findings – Self-Reported Reasons for Delay:
  • Biggest reasons for delay were not having a car (44%), ability to get around without driving (39%), cost of gas (36%), cost overall (36%), and “just didn’t get around to it” (35%)
  • Fewer than one in four cited reasons related to GDL and driving restrictions

Key Findings – Factors Associated with Licensure by 18th Birthday:

Household Income

  • <$20K/year: 25% licensed by age 18
  • >$100K/year: 79% licensed by 18


  • Non-Hispanic white: 67% licensed by 18
  • Non-Hispanic black: 37% licensed by 18
  • Hispanic: 29% licensed by 18

Young Driver Licensing in New Jersey: Rates and Trends, 2006 – 2011


  • Describe population-based rates of licensure among 17- to 20-year-olds, overall and by gender and zip code level indicators of household income, population density, and race/ethnicity
  • Examine trends in licensure from 2006 – 2011


  • Records obtained from NJ Motor Vehicle Commission’s licensing database on all individuals obtaining a license through June 2012
  • U.S. Census and 2011 American Community Survey used to account for population

Key Findings:

  • 40% of all residents, and half of those who were licensed by age 21, were licensed within a month of NJ’s minimum age of 17
  • 64% of teens licensed by age 18; 74% by 19; 78% by 20; 81% by 21
  • Socioeconomic indicators highly significant:
  • Highest-income zip codes: 65% of young people licensed within 1 month of eligibility (17th birthday in NJ); 87% licensed before age 18
  • Lowest-income zip codes: Only 13% licensed within 1 month of eligibility; 36% by age 18
  • Rate and timing of teen licensure in NJ has been stable from 2006 – 2011

Conclusions & Discussion: New Jersey and the Nation

  • Most teens don’t get licensed right away
  • Nationally, at least 36% of drivers will get licensed outside of the protective GDL provisions
  • Both nationally and in New Jersey, socioeconomic factors appear to be the most significant indicators of license delay
  • Despite speculation that teens may be delaying licensure to avoid the restrictions imposed by GDL, relatively few cite this as a reason for their decision; however, even if GDL isn’t the main reason for licensure delay, significant numbers of novice drivers are likely not exposed to GDL protections because of the delay
  • Despite some indications of a steep national decline in licensure rates, New Jersey’s have remained relatively stable, declining at most 1-3 percent from 2006 – 2011

Suggested Citation

For media inquiries, contact:

Tamra Johnson


Allison E. Curry

Melissa R. Pfeiffer

Dennis R. Durbin

Michael R. Elliott

Konny H. Kim