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Teens Delay Getting Drivers' Licences Due to Finances

Anne Artley |
August 8, 2013 | 8:49 p.m. PDT

Staff Reporter


(Wikimedia Commons)
(Wikimedia Commons)

Driving a car by the age of 16 used to mark a long-awaited rite of passage for American teenagers, but now, more teens delay getting a drivers’ license until 18 or 19.

According to a new study by AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, just over half of American teens have a license before their 18th birthday. This reflects a drop from two decades ago, when the same study showed that two-thirds of teens could drive a car by the time they turned 18.

Young drivers aged 15 to 17 are subject to a three-step training process that encourages a gradual introduction to driving: learner’s permit, provisional license and full license. 

An unlicensed teenager over 18-years-old is not required to complete these steps, and can immediately apply for a full license. 

To obtain a learner’s permit, a teen must have taken or be currently enrolled in a driver’s education course. In California, the course must offer six hours of behind-the-wheel training with a licensed instructor in addition to a classroom portion. 

Teens must hold the learner’s permit for six months, during which they are obligated to practice driving with a parent for 50 hours, 10 of which must take place at night.

After passing a road test, students will receive a provisional license, which they will hold until they turn 18. This requires them to drive with a parent at night and forbids them from driving with other passengers who are under 20-years-old. 

Gilbert Carrillo, a driving instructor at First Choice Driving School in South Los Angeles, said he has noticed a trend in which young teens finish driver’s ed courses, but then hold on to their learner’s permit until they are eligible to take the test at 18. He said they might skip the behind-the-wheel training because it is too expensive.

Although it varies by school, the “live” driving portion with the instructor costs $240 at First Choice as opposed to the online classroom instruction at $30.

“A lot of them with a permit just drive by themselves even though they’re not supposed to,” Carillo said. 

Carrillo said that new drivers who are older might pose a greater risk on the road since they haven’t gone through the comprehensive training.

“It’s important,” Carillo said. “Driving a car is not just getting from Point A to Point B. It’s about learning to drive defensively and watch out for others on the road.”

Carrillo’s observation may reflect the findings of the AAA study--low-income and minority teens are less likely to have a driver’s license before 18. Nationwide, only 29 percent of Hispanic teens and 37 percent of African-American teens were licensed drivers. Also, only 25 percent of teens living in households with incomes less than $20,000 had a license under the age of 18.

These numbers reflect the demographics of South L.A., as African-Americans and Hispanics make up all but five percent of the area’s residents. The household income levels in South L.A. also fit the profile of that of an unlicensed teen driver, as most families subside on $20,000 or less.

At the same time, Jessie Ranilla, a driver’s ed instructor at Melrose Driving School, a school which serves the more affluent neighborhoods of Santa Monica, Beverly Hills and Malibu, said she has not noticed any trend in teens delaying to get a license. 

“It’s summer. Everyone wants to get their license,” Ranilla said. “It’s our busiest season.”

The cost of behind-the-wheel training is not the only financial reason a teen might bypass a comprehensive driver’s ed; the AAA survey cited several more factors such as lack of a car and the high price of gas. 

The gas prices combined with high rates of traffic may hit young drivers in cities such as L.A. especially hard.

“When I started at USC, I started living downtown, but I moved closer to campus specifically because driving took so long,” said Ranjeet Sandhu, 20. “I wish L.A. had better public transportation, I wouldn’t even need a car then.”



Reach Staff Reporter Anne Artley here





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