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More Ohio Teens Are Delaying Driving

Linus Bohman
Flickr Creative Commons

Getting a driver’s license has traditionally been one of the things sixteen year olds look forward to doing once they blow out the candles on their birthday cakes. But a new study suggests more teens are waiting until they are a little older these days to get a license.

Delaware area resident Seamus O’Flaherty didn’t rush out to take driver’s ed classes when he turned sixteen.

“My brain wasn’t ready.”

O’Flaherty says he felt like he needed a little more time to learn everything he needed to know before getting behind the wheel.  So he waited a year.

“I mean now that I’m a little older," he says. "I feel like it’s a bit safer but it is still somewhat frightening sometimes to realize that I can control a two ton vehicle on the road and it’s fully legal."

Ohio has increased rules for young drivers in recent years, requiring them to get more practice driving time before they get their actual licenses.  Phineas Baxandall of the Ohio Public Interest Research Group says that might be one reason why more teens delay getting their licenses these days. Another is that today’s teens would rather spend time and money on technology rather than cars.

"While you are driving, you can’t be connected through Instagram, Facebook or things like that so it’s a way of being disconnected from your peers rather than more connected to your peers," says Baxandall. "I think it’s also expensive to drive.  And young people are just more interested in more vibrant communities and those tend to be more walkable places."

Baxandall says his study shows between 1983 and 2000, there was a 15% per capita drop in the number of driving trips taken by those who are 16 to 34 years old.  And he says a recent study by the Triple A driving association yields similar results.

"Triple A, their foundation for highway safety, shows driver’s licenses for high school seniors declined from 85% to 73% between just 1996 and 2010.  That’s a twelve percent drop – a really huge drop."

Baxandall says millennials don’t feel they need a car to get around. Baxandall says more younger people are looking to live and find jobs in areas where they don’t need cars.  And that’s why he says communities with great public transit options are going to be more attractive to them.  Indeed, it can be tough for some young people who live in Ohio and try to hold down jobs without having a driver’s license or car.  Debra Connor is an owner of Delaware Lanes, a bowling alley in Delaware.  She says she has an unlicensed employee who is waiting until he’s 18 to get his driver’s license so he doesn’t have to go through an expensive driver’s education program that is required for 16 and 17 year old drivers.

“I think he thinks it is a bother and if he waits until 18, he doesn’t have to deal with it.," says Connor.  "You know he already knows how to drive.  And he doesn’t have to have the cost.  You know it’s quite expensive to take the classes if you take it at a private school which is pretty much your only option nowadays

Connor says his lack of a driver’s license has forced him to rely on others for transportation to and from his job.

"Either his sister, which is actually younger than him, drives him or his parents.  And he lives probably 20 minutes away from work so it can be somewhat tricky because if we close early or he needs to stay late or we need to call him in at last minute, it’s hard for him to get here in a timely manner or get picked up in a timely manner because it’s not always set hours being a retail location so business can vary from day to day how busy you are."

Baxandall says this trend should raise red flags for community planning officials. He says if young people prefer public transportation or walkable communities, it would be smart for city and state planners to invest in those options now. And since Ohio relies on the gas tax for to keep up its roads, fewer drivers will certainly mean less money from that tax, which could impact all drivers and maybe eventually all taxpayers if other sources of revenue have to be found.