Local News

Fewer 16-year-olds getting driver's licenses

Posted January 25, 2010 7:03 p.m. EST

— The number of teens getting their full provisional driver's license dropped by 5 percent in the last three years, according to the state Division of Motor Vehicles.

The decline is part of a nationwide trend. Data released Friday by the Federal Highway Administration shows 30 percent of 16-year-olds got their licenses in 2008, compared with 44 percent in 1988.

Rob Foss, the director of the Center for the Study of Young Drivers, part of the UNC Highway Safety Research Center, said part of the decline can be attributed to laws that make getting a driver's license more time-consuming. North Carolina's graduated license program for teen drivers is a three-stage system that lasts at least 18 months and includes limits on when teens can drive by themselves and who can be in the car with them.

Others said the time needed to learn how to drive and even social networking are delaying the push for driver's licenses among some teens.

"A lot of time, students are involved in extracurricular activities, and they simply can't make the time to take driver's ed," said William Powell of Jordan Driving School.

Powell also said tough economic times have put the brakes on teen drivers, and the number of crashes involving teen drivers has made parents more cautious about allowing their children to drive by themselves.

With Facebook and text messaging, some say, cars aren't as much of a necessity for teens to interact with their friends.

"There is a football coach at my school who always makes fun of us because all we do is talk on the Internet to girls instead of going up to meet them and pick them up," said Hunter Williams, a 16-year-old Athens Drive High School student who is trying to get his license.

Greg Lipa, another Athens Drive High student, said social networking could never replace the freedom allowed by a driver's license.

"I think Facebook has made it a little easier, but seeing your friends is the way to do it, driving and seeing them, going and doing stuff with them," Lipa said.