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STILL A PASSENGER: Junior Ari Robbins shares a ride with her father. Robbins said she chose to delay getting a driver's license even though she is 16. EMILY PUTERBAUGH / PHOTO

License Free. Fewer teens choose to get their driver’s license immediately after coming of age

By Andy Yang
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When 16-year-old junior Ari Robbins needs to go somewhere, she cannot simply drive there in her car. It isn’t that she doesn’t have a car, but she has yet to obtain her driver’s license. Instead of getting her license has soon as possible, Robbins chose to postpone taking her driving tests, a decision she made the beginning of her sophomore year.

“I didn’t really practice enough and I don’t really like driving, so I’m not really confident about my driving skills. I decided not to (get my license) when the school year started and I realized how much work it would be and how practicing would be impossible because of how busy I was in school,” Robbins said.

Robbins isn’t the only teen choosing to wait until later to get his or her driver’s license. According to NPR, the number of teen driver peaked in 1978 at 12 million and has since declined to under 10 million. These teens are opting to wait and to get rides from others instead of immediately obtaining a license when eligible.

David Wilkerson, The Central Indiana Educational Service Center’s (CIESC) director of Drivers Education, said he has noticed this trend.

“Lots of students are waiting longer to get a driver license these days. In the past, say 40 or 50 years ago, people got their licenses immediately when they turned 16. Today the trend is still there, but it’s not as prevalent. In our (driver’s education) classes, there has been a noticeable decline in enrollment,” he said.

Wilkerson said this  might be attributed to a less appealing image of driving.

According to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, a non-partisan center providing information on changing trends and attitudes, fewer Americans said they liked to drive in 2006 than 1991. The number of Americans who said they thought of their car as something special has also declined.

“It was like a rite of passage you might say, and they were very excited about getting it and it was easy to get,” Wilkerson said. “The day that I turned 16, my mom actually took me out of school. It was the thing to do. That stage of the world has dissolved a little bit and many kids don’t have that feeling where they need to get a license as soon as they turn 16 and a half.”

Robbins chose not to obtain a license yet because she did not feel comfortable about driving. She said that having only stick shift cars to drive caused her to practice less, but does think that her view of driving is different from teens of the past.

“It’s more about being functional now, instead of looking cool,” she said. “It’s good as long as it gets you somewhere. Driving isn’t as much as a social thing for me; it gets me from place to place. It’s like getting a new phone today, like an iPhone or something.”

Jeremy Weprich, 17-year-old senior, also agrees that driving does not hold any special meaning to him, even though he got his license as soon as possible.

Weprich said, “The act of driving is hardly a removed, elitist goal these days. Now that most teenagers drive, especially in Carmel, it is almost expected of us. Because I had assumed that I would be driving at the age of 16, I mostly focused on the idea of driving myself, instead of relying on friends or adults.”

He said he got his license simply to avoid having to need his parents take him around everywhere.­

Additionally, the financial aspect of driving has had an impact on the decision of teens. In 1978, gas prices were under a dollar. Now, the price reaches almost $3. It also doesn’t help that teen employment is only 3.22 percent, the lowest it has been since 1948, according the a 2009 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report.

Furthermore, car insurance is the most expensive for teenagers, putting a greater burden on their parents.

“Unfortunately, teens have decided to stop getting their licenses because of the failing economy. Things like gas and insurance are just too expensive now.” Wilkerson said.

Robbins’ mother Melissa Brown said that she has had no problems at all with Ari’s decision and has in fact benefited from such a choice.

“I lived in rural California and I got my license as soon as I was eligible, which was when I was 16 and two days,” Brown said, “but, I would rather pick up my kids than have somebody else who isn’t as capable drive them or have them crash.

It helps that I don’t have to pay for insurance. Ari has a sister who does have her license so it makes it easier on us only having to pay for one.”

Wilkerson said he also sees this trend as a positive one. “I think it’s probably going to continue. It may not be a bad thing. If a kid waits  a little longer, theoretically he should be a little bit more mature and hopefully, he’ll be a better and safer driver. So if you look at it that way, it might not be a bad trend. It might save some lives.”

For now, Robbins said she is content to let other people provide rides, but would choose to get her license if she got a job that would require her to drive there.

At the latest, she said that she would wait until her senior year to get a driver’s license. “There just really hasn’t been a real need for me to get a license yet. When I need to go somewhere, I can just get rides or walk or bike there in the summer.”