Prevalence and Timing of Driver Licensing Among Young Adults
Obtaining a driver’s license was once widely regarded as a “rite of passage” for teenagers in the United States. However, only 36% of young people surveyed in 2012 by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety reported having obtained their first driver’s license at or before the age of 16 and only 54% reported having done so before they turned 18 (Tefft et al., 2013). At that time, it was not clear whether the apparent decrease in teen licensing was a temporary effect of the Great Recession of 2007–2009 — the effects of which lingered for several years — or whether the prevalence of teen driver licensure would remain at that level. Some wondered if rates of licensing among young people might decrease further due to broader societal trends.
To investigate this phenomenon, the AAA Foundation in 2019 surveyed a nationally-representative sample of 1,402 young adults ages 18–24 to estimate the proportion of young adults nationwide who possess a driver’s license, the ages at which they first obtained their license, and factors associated with the timing of licensure. Results show that an estimated 41% of this cohort received their first driver’s license at or before age 16, 19% at age 17, and 28% at age 18 or older. An additional 4% had a learner’s permit, and 8% have neither a license nor a permit. This Research Brief presents current, detailed information on the prevalence and timing of licensure among young adults ages 18–24 in relation to demographic characteristics and other factors.