Economic Perspective: The Decline In Young Drivers

NC State College of Agriculture and Life Sciences professor Dr. Mike Walden working in a recording studio.


“Today’s program looks at the decline in young drivers. Mike, one thing parents of our generation, the Baby Boomers, could count on was nagging from us to drive as soon as we turned 16, but I understand this is no longer the case. Why?”


“And I can remember that birthday, that magic 16th birthday. I could finally get my keys to a car. I bought an old clunker, and I felt so free and so much an independent person. But that’s changed now. If you look at data for late-teen individuals, these are individuals aged 16 to 19, driving for them has fallen significantly in the last 30 years. For example, in 1983 40 percent of 16 year olds had a driver’s license. Today, it’s only 22 percent. Almost a cut of half.”

“Several reasons for this. One reason that I think is obvious to most people. Young people don’t need to be face-to-face in order to be connected. They can do that through their technology. A lot of them are doing that. Many young people today grew up during the financial crisis. They saw the problems that created for their parents, particularly maybe some parents losing their homes. Maybe losing their cars because they couldn’t meet the payments, and that’s caused many young people to be frugal. So they don’t want to go out and borrow money, for example, to buy a car.”

“Vehicles today are actually more expensive even when you adjust for inflation because they are so much more capable, particularly in the technology area. And then lastly, there are obviously a lot of alternatives that we didn’t have when we were 16: ride sharing, rental bikes and scooters. So this is a big, big change we’re seeing among late teens.”

Mike Walden is a William Neal Reynolds Distinguished Professor and Extension Economist in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at North Carolina State University who teaches and writes on personal finance, economic outlook and public policy.

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