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U-M study finds substantial change in age composition of US drivers between 1983 and 2008; younger drivers represent smaller portions of their age groups

Changes in percentage of teenagers with driver’s licenses, 1983 to 2008. Data: Sivak and Schoettle. Click to enlarge.

The age composition of US drivers has changed substantially between 1983 and 2008, according to a new study by University of Michigan researchers Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle, published in the journal Traffic Injury Prevention. In 1983, the largest group of drivers included those between 25 and 29 years of age. In contrast, in 2008, the largest group included those 70 years and older.

In 1983, a third of all licensed drivers in the United States were under age 30. Today, only about 22% of drivers are twentysomethings or teenagers. Further, more than half of all drivers in 1983 were under age 40, but today that number has fallen to less than 40%.

Sivak and Schoettle found that young people not only account for a lower percentage of today’s total licensed drivers, but that young drivers represent a smaller portion of their age group as a whole, compared to 1983.

About 87% of 19-year-olds in 1983 had their licenses, but 25 years later, that percentage had dropped to about 75%. Other teen driving groups have also declined: 18-year-olds fell from 80% in 1983 to 65% in 2008, 17-year-olds decreased from 69% to 50%, and 16-year-olds slipped from 46% to 31%.

It is possible that the availability of virtual contact through electronic means reduces the need for actual contact among young people. Furthermore, some young people feel that driving interferes with texting and other electronic communication.

—Michael Sivak, research professor at the U-M Transportation Research Institute

Drivers in their 20s and 30s also saw their ranks fall as a percentage of their age group population—down nearly 10 percentage points for twentysomethings and down about five percentage points for the thirtysomethings.

On the other hand, licensed drivers among older age groups (those over 40) have increased their numbers, as both a percentage of their population and as a percentage of total licensed drivers.

In 2008, those 70 and older comprised the largest group of drivers on the road—more than 10 percent—slightly higher than those in their 40s or 50s. Licensed drivers as a percentage of their age group population have risen for all groups over age 45 since 1983.

In 1983, between 84% and 88% of people in their late 50s and early 60s had a driver’s license. Now those percentages are in the 95% range. The change is even more pronounced for seniors. Today, about 94% of those age 65-69 and 78% of those 70 and older have their licenses, up from 79% and 55%, respectively, in 1983.

Overall, the future evolution of these changes will have potentially major implications for future transportation and its consequences. Specifically, licensing changes will likely affect the future amount and nature of transportation, transportation mode selected, vehicles purchased, the safety of travel and the environmental consequences of travel.

—Michael Sivak


  • Michael Sivak & Brandon Schoettle (2011) Recent Changes in the Age Composition of US Drivers: Implications for the Extent, Safety, and Environmental Consequences of Personal Transportation. Traffic Injury Prevention Volume 12, Issue 6 doi: 10.1080/15389588.2011.605817



This corresponds to other recent studies indicating that teens (in USA) are less interested in FUN driving and are occupied with other activities and/or are spending their fewer $$ somewhere else.

That will have a very positive effect on road accidents and fatalities.

Unfortunately, that trend has not started (yet) in Canada but it may in a few months/years to come.


Ummm, or it simply reflects an aging national population. You have to measure against changes in the overall age distribution to measure any trends in tastes....otherwise you're just tracking simple demographic changes.


And what percentage of the 70+ crowd shouldn't have a license?
(thinking of my in-laws)


danm....stats do not agree with you (at all).

Dollared....yes, demographics may play a part too.


The population is getting older.

Walking and bike riding are for the mature.

And drivers are improving; Fully half are in the upper 50 percentile of safe drivers.

Geoff Howat

Maybe (un)natural selection is weeding out by road accidents the risk-taking younger drivers before they can reproduce.


Dollared:....A closer look at the USA age pyramid reveals that the percentage of people in the 16 to 24 age group has actually increased from 9.5% to 9.8% to close to 11% for 1990, 2000 and 2010 respectively.

That really means more potential young drivers instead of less.

Why would more people get less driver license and drive less?

Must be other reasons?

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