Local driving schools notice trend of fewer teen drivers

The number of teen drivers has decreased nationally for a variety of reasons, a trend noticed by officials at local driving schools.

“These days, people are not motivated to get their license,” said Jay Alvarez, owner of Shield Driving School in Meriden. “… The younger driver, they don’t want their license. They don’t want that responsibility. A lot of the parents are forcing their kids to get their license at 16 because they need them to get a job, they need them to go to practice, they need them to go to school.”

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported that out of the 228.2 million licensed drivers in the United States in 2020, only 11.6 million (5.1%) of them were considered to be young drivers, ages 15 to 20 years old. This is an 8.3% decrease from the young licensed drivers in 2011 and a 4.7% decrease from 2019.

Alvarez said the average age of his driving students is mid to late twenties. He has also noticed that the number of students in his classes has decreased.

“When I first started, I was averaging about 20 to 30 kids per class per session,” Alvarez said. “I’m now like 10 to 15, maybe 20 if I’m lucky.”

Diane Stanley owns the Higganum-based Crossroads Driving School, which teaches drivers in various towns, including Wallingford and North Haven. Her school is busy this summer, but she said restrictions on 16 and 17 year old drivers are prompting many teens to wait until they are 18.

According to the Connecticut State DMV Center for Teen Safe Driving, 16 and 17-year-olds can’t get their license until they have had their driver’s permit for at least four months. They also have to complete an eight hour Safe Driving Practices class, a two hour parent/legal guardian training and 40 hours of practice driving.

Once they obtain their license after passing a road test and vision test, 16 and 17-year-olds can’t drive alone with friends their own age for a year and can’t drive between 11 pm and 4 am

“I think you are seeing some students waiting until they are 18 so they can just drive without restrictions,” Stanley said.

In Connecticut, the number of teenagers getting their learner’s permit has mostly stayed even in recent years, about 25,000 per year, said Tony Guerrera, deputy commissioner of the state Department of Motor Vehicles. However, he did notice a slight dip in 2020 when 23,693 teens received a learner’s permit.

“People were scared to get into vehicles with other people because of COVID,” Guerrera said.

The number of licensed 18-year-olds in the country has decreased from 80.4% in 1983 to 61% in 2018, according to Statista. The number of licensed 16-year-olds has gone down as well. In 1983, 46.2% of 16-year-olds were licensed, but in 2018, only 25.6% of this age group had their driver’s license.

Cynthia Luca, owner of EZ-Lern Driving School in Meriden, said the cost of driving is prompting some teens to wait.

“Getting a license, that’s not the major cost,” Luca said. “It’s what happens when you get the license. The automobile, the gas, the insurance.”

Luca said that she has seen an increase in students between the ages of 19 and 21. Older students only have to take an eight hour course.

“They come in, they have some driving experience,” Luca said. “We’re just more or less checking them out, making sure that they are ready to take a test …”

Brandon Dufour, founder and chief executive officer of The Next Street driving school, said the number of 16 and 17 year old driving students has steadily decreased over the past 10 years. Next Street has locations throughout New England, including in Wallingford, Southington and Cheshire,

“The access to social media and ability for young adults to communicate without having to be together makes a car and license less needed,” Dufour said.

Guerrera said teens now have many more transportation options, including Uber and Lyft.

“Things that weren’t available like ten years ago,” Guerrera said. “I think they could be waiting (to drive) a little bit longer and just not concerned about it because they are able to get to point A and point B through different modes of transportation.”

While the change in student demographics has not impacted revenue, Dufour said Next Street has had to change its curriculum to better suit older students.

“Teaching a 22 year old requires a different approach than teaching a 16 year old, and so we are constantly evolving our curriculum and our staff training…” Dufour said.

Driving safety

Ira Caplan, co-owner of Liberty Driving School in Meriden, said the lack of younger students has not changed the way he teaches. However, he has made his students more aware of the dangers of reckless driving.

“There’s more reckless drivers out there right now,” Caplan said. “I think due to COVID there were less people on the road and people were driving worse without any consequences. I am seeing more and more of that right now.”

Caplan said he stresses the importance of defensive driving.

In 2020, there were about 189,950 young drivers in car crashes, according to the NHTSA. Young drivers, who are 15 to 20 years old, account for 8.5% of all drivers involved in fatal accidents.

The Flood Law Firm, which is based in Waterbury, posted on its website that the three types of crashes that teen drivers get in the most are rear-end collisions, road departures and left-turn collisions. More than 68% of all teen crashes are caused by distracted driving. Drivers between the ages of 16 and 19 are three times more likely to be in a car accident than someone 20 and over.

However, in Connecticut, drivers between the ages of 21 and 25 are more at risk of being in a fatal crash. The percentage for this age group is 12.95%, while the percentage for 16 to 20 is 7.95%, according to statistics posted on The Flood Law Firm’s website, which cites data from the Connecticut Crash Data Repository.

“I’m constantly warning the kids practically every class…this is what I saw a driver do that they shouldn’t be doing,'” said Risa Caplan, co-owner of Liberty Driving School.

Alvarez said that he tells his students that it is important to be “aware of your surroundings at all times.”

“Don’t rely on technology, rely on your eyes,” Alvarez said.

jsimms@record-journal.com203-317-2279Twitter: @jessica_simms99