Driven to Wait: Why are 16-year-olds holding back on driving? - WAOW - Newsline 9, Wausau News, Weather, Sports

Driven to Wait: Why are 16-year-olds holding back on driving?


The number of Wisconsin 16-year-olds getting their driver's licenses has fallen since 1998. 

"You have to be careful and be safe" 17-year-old Michael Pelland told Newsline 9.    

Pelland is a student driver.  He's also part of a growing trend of Wisconsin teenagers slamming the brakes on getting their license they day they turn 16.

"Take your time with things and do it right, instead of rushing it" Pelland said.      

Wisconsin Department of Motor Vehicles statistics show in 1998 there were 44,251 teenagers aged 16 years getting license.  In 2011 the number had plummeted to 33,514; a drop of approximately 24 percent.  Wisconsin's population stayed flat in the same period of time. 

Nationwide, according to the Federal Highway Commission, the number of 16-year-olds getting their license has dropped even more.

Pelland says the statistics aren't surprising.  The teen says he no regrets waiting until he's older to get his license.  

"You learn more and are more responsible on the road" he said.   

Michael's father Chris Lang says he notices a difference in his son's generation from when he was younger.       

"It was sort of a status thing back then.  Back in high school I remember a lot of my fellow students; they were dying to get their license" Lang said. 

He also noted that today's youth have more options that were not always readily available years ago. 

"They're continuing on to college, they're not leaving the house right away and going to find a job and that's where their education stops" Lang said.   

That's a sentiment being supported by research on today's teenagers.  

According to University of Wisconsin—Stevens Point interpersonal communications assistant professor Sylvia Mikucki-Envart, today's youth are experiencing different circumstances and options that previous generations did not.  

"Younger generations now, they don't become an adult at age 18 anymore" Mikucki-Envart said.   

Researchers have identified a concept called emerging adulthood in young adults aged 18 to 25.  The concept entails the idea younger generations are not as pressed to become adults as fast as previous generations were.  

"A new trend we're seeing where they're not in a rush or in as big of a hurry anymore to meet these milestones" Mikucki-Envart said.  

Perceptions on getting a driver's license appear to be one item of adulthood that today's youth do not hold as being as important as their predecessors did.

"Only about a quarter of them think that obtaining a license is a significant marker of adulthood" Mikucki-Envart said.    

That decreased sense of importance may be contributing to more teenagers waiting until they are older before they get their license. 

One person witnessing that firsthand is Tom Decker.  The driving instructor operates Decker's Driving Academy of Wausau.  

"We have noticed that there's been an increase in students waiting" Decker said.   

Decker cites the increasing cost of driving and the process teenagers must go through to obtain their license as another reason why teens are waiting longer.    the driving school instructor says the escalating cost of driving may be the final straw.  

"With minimum wage at seven and a quarter, working doesn't go very far when you have got to put all that money in the tank.  Things have changed.  They've definitely changed" Decker said.  


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