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The Number of Teens Getting Drivers Licenses is Dropping

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Driver’s education classes used to be a cornerstone of the American teen experience – at least for people lucky enough to attend schools that could afford it. Shrinking education budgets have meant that driver’s ed classes are quickly disappearing from American schools, leaving many people to turn to online driver’s ed courses instead. For these reasons and others, it turns out fewer and fewer American teens are getting their driver’s licenses. What’s behind the loss of this great American rite of passage?

According to a data from the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles, the drop in 16-year-olds obtaining licenses has dropped by as high as 55% between 2000 and 2015. While disappearing driver’s ed classes are a significant contributing factor, they’re not the only reason teens aren’t getting their licenses. For some, it’s a matter of safety, as social media and the 24-hour news cycle have scared some teens into avoiding seeking their licenses.

Raven Lamb was one such teen, and is now getting her license at the age of 24. “It’s scary getting out on the road at 16 cause you’re trying to make sure you don’t hit nobody and you see the news, all these accidents and you’re like ‘oh my God I don’t want to hit nobody,’ ” Lamb says.

The rise of ride-hailing apps like Uber and Lyft likely contribute to dwindling teen licenses as well, although data on the impact of those services are hard to come by. Above all, though, the cause is likely economic. The costs of owning a vehicle continue to rise, creating a significant transportation barrier which prevents many households from getting licenses or cars and creating an inescapable cycle of poverty.

Should these shrinking licenses be an economic wake-up call, or do they merely reflect a changing transportation landscape? As always, it’s likely somewhere in the middle.

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