by Michael Sivak.
In a 2011 article, Brandon Schoettle and I showed that the proportion of young Americans aged 16 to 39 years with a driver’s license decreased substantially from 1983 to 2008. (In contrast, the proportion of older persons with a driver’s license increased during the same period.) This article reports on two follow-up analyses. The first analysis is an update of the licensing trends through 2017. The second analysis provides information related to the degree of permanence of the decrease in licensure of young persons.
The years included in the first analysis were 1983 and 2008 (the same as in our original study), and three additional years spaced three years apart (2011, 2014, and 2017). The data came from the Federal Highway Administration. The results are shown in the chart below.
The results indicate that the percentage of persons with a driver’s license for each age group from 16 to 39 in 2017 was higher than the values reached in 2014 (which were the lowest values), but still substantially lower than in 1983. The table below includes the corresponding percentages for those who were 16 to 39 years of age.
In a 2014 survey, we asked persons without a driver’s license whether they ever planned to get a license, and if so, when. Of those aged 20 to 29 and without a license, 22% indicated that they planned never to get a license, while 73% were planning to get one within 10 years. What do young people without a driver’s license actually do over time? To answer that question, the second of the two present analyses examined cohort trends from 2007 to 2017 for persons aged 20 to 29 years in 2007. This analysis provides information about the licensing changes for people as they age. (The people in cohort 1 in 2007 and in 2017 are the same people, except for those who died and immigrated/emigrated. The same applies to the people in cohort 2.) The results are shown in the table below.
The main finding of this analysis is that some of the people who did not have a driver’s license in 2007 acquired one by 2017, but some did not. Of those aged 20 to 24 and without a license in 2007, 45% had one by 2017. (89.9 minus 81.7 is 45% of 100 minus 81.7.) Analogously, of those aged 25 to 29 and without a license in 2007, 30% had one by 2017. This contrasts with the results of our 2014 survey, in which 73% of respondents aged 20 to 29 indicated that they were planning to acquire a driver's license within 10 years. (The obtained percentages—45% and 30%—assume that all those who had a license in 2007 kept it through 2017. To the extent that some of them did not, these percentages underestimate the actual percentages somewhat.)
There are two takeaways from this study. First, the percentages of young persons aged 16 to 39 with a driver’s license in 2017 have increased from the values in 2014 for all age groups, but they are still substantially below those in 1983. Second, a majority of those aged 20 to 29 who did not have a license in 2007 have not acquired one by 2017.
Michael Sivak is the managing director of Sivak Applied Research and the former director of Sustainable Worldwide Transportation at the University of Michigan.