The study, based on data collected in 2012, showed that less than half of teens — 44 percent — were licensed within 12 months of the minimum age in their state, while 54 percent were licensed before their 18th birthday. The most common reasons for the delay were: “not having a car” (44 percent); “ability to get around without driving” (39 percent); “cost of gas” (36 percent); “cost overall” (34 percent); and “just didn’t get around to it” (35 percent).
Julie Dunn-Alexander, the owner of Driver Ed Academy in West Chester Twp., has been teaching driving since 1982 and has noticed fewer younger teens seeking their license in recent years. That’s largely because the social scene no longer depends upon having a car.
“Over the last 10 years, kids haven’t been motivated like they used to be. With social media, they don’t even have to leave their bed to socialize. They have Facetime and Snapchat and all that,” she said.
As a result, business has slowed down, at least among high school-age students. However, Dunn-Alexander is seeing more young adults — sometimes in their mid-20s — approaching her about driver’s ed.
Ohio law requires that anyone under the age of 18 complete a minimum of 24 hours of classroom instruction and eight hours of behind-the-wheel instruction. Like many states, Ohio has Graduated Driver Licensing requirements, which impose more restrictions on younger teens as safety measures.
For instance, teens under 17 are not permitted to drive with more than one non-family member in the vehicle. They are also not permitted to drive between the hours of midnight and 6 a.m. unless accompanied by a parent or guardian. To get around these requirements, some teens wait until they’re 18 or older to drive, said Dunn-Alexander.
“It’s really slowed down in that I’m not seeing nearly as many high school students as I once did,” she said.
Fairfield High School eliminated busing to the high school in 2011, but one driving instructor based there says he’s not seeing many younger teens coming through Drive-Rite School, based in that city. Of about 700 sophomores at the high school, “at best, only half of them are coming in here,” said Walt Neary, the executive director of Drive Rite.
Bucking the trend
Even with the changing times, a number of local teenagers still aim to get their license as soon as they can manage it. The number of Butler County teens getting their license increased from 2008 to 2012, before dropping in 2013.
One of those is Rylie Harrison of Franklin, who was taking lessons Friday at Bick’s Driving School in Middletown.
“A lot of my friends’ parents feel it’s safer getting your license when you’re older, but mine had no problem with me,” she said. “My parents are very, very busy people, and having one more driver would help them.”
Still, some of her friends wait until they’re a little older, at about 16 and a half, because of scheduling issues and because they don’t feel confident enough to go out on the road without a parent, she said.
Paige Erskine, a junior at Fairfield High School, got her license earlier this year when she turned 16.
“I have some friends that don’t want their license at 16 because they’re too afraid to drive. Then, I have some that want their license right away because you have that freedom to be able to drive, and you don’t have to rely on your parents … I don’t like relying on my parents when I want to go somewhere,” she said.
Kurry Cortwright, a 15-year-old sophomore at Fairfield, said, “My brother is 17 and still doesn’t have his license because he doesn’t want that responsibility right now. He likes being a kid … I’m going to get my license as soon as I turn 16. I don’t like relying on my parents for rides, and I have wrestling and stuff like that to do. It will save my parents a lot more money than if they were driving me around.”
The dangers of skipping Drivers Ed
While it may be reasonable for some to wait until they’re older to drive, the AAA Foundation’s research shows that bypassing driver’s education has its risk, noting that motor vehicle crashes are still the leading cause of death for teenagers, and that drivers aged 18 to 20 where involved in more than 800,000 crashes in the U.S. in 2012.
The organization studied crash rates of new drivers in three states: California, North Carolina and New Jersey. The minimum age for driving in California and North Carolina is 16, but there are no graduated driver’s license requirements like there are in Ohio. In those states, new drivers were less likely to crash during their first months of driving, but new drivers licensed at age 18 were more likely to have an injury or fatal crash in their first year, than in driving at any other age.
On the other end of the spectrum, New Jersey establishes a minimum age of 17 for solo driving, with a graduated driver’s license program for all drivers up to age 21. There, older beginners had slightly lower crash rates, but the crash rates for different ages converged after six months of solo driving experience.
Dunn-Alexander added that experience is the key, saying, “You can make one mistake, and that’s your life or the life of the other driver. It doesn’t even have to be your mistake.”