by Michael Sivak, Sivak Applied Research.
In 2011, Brandon Schoettle and I documented the fact that, during the 25-year period from 1983 to 2008, there was a large reduction in the proportion of young persons with a driver’s license, and an increase in the licensing of older persons. I periodically updated that research, with the previous update examining the data through 2018. The present analysis focuses on the changes from 2019 to 2020 (the first year with the pandemic).
The data of interest in this analysis are percentages of persons with a driver’s license by age, and they come from FHWA. The table below shows the data for 2019 and 2020, along with the data for 1983 and 2008—the years of the original analysis.
The following are the two main sets of findings:
Licensing of younger persons—those between 16 and 29 years of age—decreased in 2020 (the first year of the pandemic) compared with 2019. For example, while in 2019, 70.9% of 19-year-olds had a license, that percentage in 2020 dropped to 67.7%. Furthermore, for each age in this group, the licensing percentage in 2020 was the lowest of the 4 years examined.
On the other end of the age spectrum, the trend was in the other direction. Licensing of older persons—those 60 and older—increased. The most pronounced change was for those 70 and older, with the percentage increasing from 81.8% in 2019 to 84.6% in 2020. Furthermore, for those 65 and above, the licensing percentage in 2020 was the highest of the 4 years examined.
Michael Sivak is the managing director of Sivak Applied Research and the former director of Sustainable Worldwide Transportation at the University of Michigan.