The slow economy is behind the recent drop in teen driving, suggests a new report from the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI).
Some observers have speculated that with the rise in cellphones and social media, today's teens view driving as less imperative than teens did years ago. But the institute's study shows the decline in teen driving coincides with the slowdown of the U.S. economy. The shortage of work opportunities hit teens disproportionately hard.
"It looks like teens just can't afford to drive," HLDI Vice President Matt Moore said in a press statement. "Paying for their own cars, gas and insurance is hard if they can't find a job. At the same time, kids who count on Mom and Dad to help them also may be out of luck if their parents have been affected by the recession."
A recent study from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control based on survey data estimated that the proportion of high school seniors with a driver's license fell from 85 percent in 1996 to 73 percent in 2010. The proportion of seniors who reported that they didn't drive during an average week rose from 15 percent to 22 percent over the same period.
The HLDI study confirms the drop in teen driving. Analysts looked at the number of rated drivers on collision insurance policies in 49 states and the District of Columbia. From 2006 to 2012 the number of rated drivers ages 14 to 19 fell 12 percent. During the same period, the population of 14- to 19-year-olds dropped by only 3 percent. The number of rated drivers ages 35 to 54 also fell, but not as sharply.
Meanwhile, the unemployment rate increased for both groups between 2006 and 2010, but the rise was steeper for teenagers -- 11 percentage points versus 5 percentage points for workers ages 35 to 54. The difference in unemployment rates for the two groups increased at the height of the recession and then leveled off after 2010.
"As the economy picks up again, it's possible that more teenagers will get behind the wheel," Moore says. "Unfortunately, that may also mean a rise in teen crash fatalities, which have been trending downward."