DMV Dilemma: Decrease in Student Driver’s Licenses Explained
As kids, we plan our time around our parents’ schedules. We rely on them to chauffeur us to soccer practices, haircuts, birthday parties and everything else occurring outside a one-mile radius of home. As a pre-16-year-old, I had to endure the scheduling bureaucracy of my parents every time I wanted to leave the house. This is how my search for a ride typically went:
Ask mom for ride
Mom is busy and says to ask dad instead
Ask dad for ride
Dad says to ask mom
Repeat cycle until success
I was eager to turn 16 and obtain my license. I assumed this was universal and all kids were itching to get their driver’s license, but that is not the case. In 2020, the U.S. saw an extreme decrease. The Washington Post reported a mere 25% of 16-year-olds had their license in 2020 compared to 43% in 1997.
COVID-19 had an impact on this number as many DMV offices were temporarily closed. Yet, now that we are out of the pandemic, the question must be raised: why are there still so many teens without their license? As a senior in high school, many of my peers have not taken the initiative to get their permit, let alone their license.
As someone who has been a teen for what seems like a lifetime, I concocted a few theories to answer this question.
Theory #1: Inconvenience and Expense
Students used to take driver’s ed courses free of charge at high school where the assistant baseball coach doubled as its teacher. That ended in 1990 when California pulled the funding for these courses in public schools. Today, students must hire a professional driving instructor for the mandatory six hours of behind-the-wheel training, at a cost of up to $800.
News Flash: Teens actually value their time and money despite our sometimes nonchalant attitudes. When obtaining a driver’s license became an inconvenience, teens took a back seat rather than go through the hassle. This undoubtedly contributed to the drastic decrease of teens getting their licenses.
Theory #2: Accessible Transportation
From BART to buses, and more recently, Uber to Lyft, travel has become easier. In large metropolitan areas, like the Bay Area, transit is available on every block. Driver’s licenses seem unnecessary to teens in a world of rides at the click of a button.
Final Theory: Fear
Teens are afraid of accidents or something negative happening which is out of their control. In Orinda, we navigate narrow roads with no shoulders, then merge onto freeways, tunnels and bridges, which is nerve-wracking even for experienced drivers. Having been in a car accident myself (on the freeway, no less), I know firsthand they are not enjoyable experiences. Driving is scary. Even if you have control of your vehicle, drivers nearby can initiate an accident.
As teens, we don’t have much independence. To me, 16 is the glorious age when we can gain coveted independence. Yes, we still rely on our parents in other ways. However, if you are fortunate enough to have access to a car, then having a license gives far more freedom over how your time is spent.
My advice: Ditch the parental scheduling bureaucracy, climb into the driver’s seat and get your license!
Nicole Lamison can be reached at email@example.com.