Although social media and the internet at large have completely permeated the lives of modern teens, it does not appear to be the root cause of their reluctance to begin driving, as some critics have proposed. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) today published a report suggesting that poor economics and high unemployment rates are a more likely culprit for the lower numbers of teenage drivers.
The study compares the demographic population versus the drop in insurance-rated drivers between 2006 and 2012 in two categories: teens (14-19) and prime-age drivers (35-54). Results show that the number of teenage drivers, which dropped 12 percent compared to a meager 3 percent drop in teen population, fell more drastically than those of prime-age drivers. HLDI says that it's not that the allure of the open road is lost on today’s smartphone-toting youth, but that they simply cannot afford to drive.
HLDI’s evaluation cites a survey conducted in 2013 which reveals that 17 percent of 18-19 year-old participants identified “Owning and maintaining a vehicle is too expensive,” as their main reason for not having a driver’s license. Comparing this figure to the paltry 3 percent who responded that they were “Able to communicate and/or conduct business online instead.” Moreover, while both prime-age workers and teens saw an increase in unemployment between 2006 and 2012, the slump was 6 percentage points sharper for teens. In other words, the number of teenage drivers declined at the same time that teenage unemployment rose.
"It looks like teens just can't afford to drive," HLDI Vice President Matt Moore said in a statement. "Paying for their own cars, gas and insurance is hard if they can't find a job. At the same time, kids who count on Mom and Dad to help them also may be out of luck if their parents have been affected by the recession."
Economic difficulties have affected the states as well, some of which have elected to cut driver’s education funding. Driver’s education introduces teens to safe driving, and successful completion of classes can even lead to lower insurance premiums. Between the economic hurdles and lack of available courses, the impetus for teenage drivers to get behind the wheel just isn’t there.
While teens will continue to immerse themselves in social media and the like, the HLDI report has shown that America’s youth has not necessarily lost interest in driving. "As the economy picks up again, it's possible that more teenagers will get behind the wheel," Moore said.