From his position in the passenger seat of a car, Chris Meier notices a trend in the driver’s seat: a change in the age of the person behind the wheel.
What You Need To Know Figures from the Federal Highway Administration show that as recently as 1997, 43% of 16-year-olds had their driver’s license
By 2020, that number had dropped to just 25%.
The driving school’s founder said he believes fear and anxiety are the main factor keeping teenagers waiting
Some teenagers told us that driving straight away is just not mandatory
Meier has worked with driving schools in Tampa Bay for more than 20 years. His father started a school in 1978. Meier founded his own, Safe Drivers Florida, a few years ago.
But lately he’s noticed that the teenagers he teaches are getting older.
“I have a lot of students who are 17 and 18[years old]as opposed to 15 and 16[years old]like me when I started,” Meier said.
It’s not a coincidence. Figures from the Federal Roads Administration show that in 1997 43% of 16-year-olds had their driver’s license. By 2020, that number had dropped to just 25%.
A generation or two ago, teenagers would often go to the MRO on the day they turned 16. It was a rite of passage. Now many teenagers seem content to wait months – even years – before becoming a licensed driver.
In fact, a recent study by AAA showed that only 54% of American teenagers by the age of 18 had their driver’s license. Meier said he believes fear and anxiety are the #1 factor compelling teens to wait.
“A lot of it is nervousness and anxiety. They find driving very stressful. I don’t blame them,” Meier told Spectrum Bay News 9. “A lot of kids don’t want that stress and anxiety when people are constantly chasing them, people are constantly cutting off their paths, people are constantly speeding.”
It’s not the only factor.
Recent research from General Motors suggests that cost – the price of a car, insurance and gas – is the number one reason teenagers wait longer to get their driver’s license.
Spectrum Bay News 9 spoke to teenagers who reiterated the idea that anxiety and fear played a role in putting off becoming a licensed driver. They confirmed that cost was also a major obstacle. But some told us it just wasn’t mandatory to drive straight away.
“I will need (a license) at some point. It’s just not the most important thing to worry about,” said Skielar Steinacker, an 18-year-old from Brandon who doesn’t have a license or learner’s permit.
“Really, if I need a ride, I can ask — I can get one,” Steinacker said.
Even within the Meier family — a family that has been dedicated to teaching people in Tampa Bay to drive for 45 years — there has been a shift. Chris’ father founded a driving school. Chris founded a driving school. But Chris’ son has a driver’s license but no car and doesn’t really feel like driving.
]“He never felt the need. His friends would come and pick him up and they would hang out together as a group,” Meier said, adding that the kids would also interact online. “Even if they’re not physically together, they don’t feel the need to go anywhere.”
They don’t necessarily need a driver’s license, so they don’t feel like they’re missing out on waiting.