AAA: More teens learning to drive at younger age is great news for all drivers

Published 11:27 am Monday, October 21, 2019

LEXINGTON — More than 60 percent of teens on the road today got their driver’s license before the age of 18, according to new research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. That’s an 11 percent increase since 2012. The good news? Unlike their 18 year old peers, these younger teens are subject to graduated driver licensing (GDL) programs that help them to gradually learn the rules of the road under less risky conditions.

“The fact that more teens are starting to drive at an age when they can gradually learn the necessary skills to be safe behind the wheel is great news for all drivers,” said Lori Weaver Hawkins, public and government affairs manager, AAA Blue Grass. “Past trends of waiting until you turn 18 to be licensed was a cause for concern. Many of these young drivers were getting behind the wheel with minimal knowledge or support, putting themselves and others at risk.”

National Teen Driver Safety Week (October 20-26) helps to remind parents to have conversations with their teens about the important rules they need to follow to stay safe behind the wheel of a motor vehicle. The greatest dangers to teen drivers include alcohol, inconsistent or no seat belt use, distracted and drowsy driving, speeding and number of passengers.

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GDLs restrict young drivers

All states, including Kentucky, have GDL systems in place for teen drivers ages 16 and 17 to help them gradually learn the rules of the road under less risky conditions. The programs require minimum holding periods and practice behind the wheel for teens with learner’s permits, followed by restricted licenses that limit driving at night or with peer passengers.

According to the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, Kentucky currently has one of the highest teen crash rates in the nation. Teenage drivers account for only six percent of the state’s driving population, yet they are involved in about 18 percent of fatal crashes in Kentucky and more than 20 percent of all highway crashes in the state.

Kentucky’s Graduated Driver Licensing program is only required for drivers obtaining their original permit at the age of 16 or 17 and uses an intermediary period of six months between the learner’s permit and full, unrestricted license. The program enforces a number of restrictions on young drivers and requires driver’s education before teens move to an unrestricted license.

New trend in teen licensure

The new report reveals a changing trend in teen licensure since the Foundation first began evaluating the issue in 2012. At the time, the country was just emerging from a recession and many young people cited their family’s inability to afford the high cost of driving as a reason why they did not obtain their license sooner.

“The trend for teens to acquire their driver’s license has changed over the past 10 years,” said Weaver Hawkins. “Many are getting licensed before the age of 18, which means more of Generation Z is learning to drive under the protection of state graduated driver licensing programs and parental supervision.”

The new AAA Foundation study surveyed young adults ages 18-24 to determine when they obtained their license and found that nationally, 40.8 percent got their license at or before age 16 and 60.3% got their license before the age of 18. Teens living in rural areas and those in the Midwest were more likely to get their licenses under the age of 18 than teens in other areas.

Teens more likely to be in serious crashes

The need for teens to gradually learn skills necessary for driving is supported by previous AAA Foundation research, which found that for every mile driven, new teen drivers ages 16-17 years old are three times as likely as adults to be involved in a deadly crash.

But earlier AAA Foundation research also found that drivers first licensed at age 18 are more likely to be involved in a crash resulting in injuries during their first year of solo driving than new drivers licensed at any other age, a statistic that supports the effectives of GDL programs for younger teen drivers.

Overall, nearly 28 percent of the young adults in the latest AAA Foundation survey reported waiting until they were 18 or older to get their license. Reasons young adults cited for delaying licensure included:

• Nervous about driving (68.4 percent)

• They could do everything they needed without driving (52.6 percent)

• Driving was too expensive (33.3 percent)

• Too busy to get a license (28.9 percent)

• Family members did not have time to help them get their license (20.5 percent)

“It is imperative that all new drivers practice driving with a skilled coach through a variety of routes and in different weather conditions before heading out on their own,” said Weaver Hawkins. “Novice drivers shouldn’t drive in the rain or on the freeway for the first time without an adult present.”

Practicing safety first

Distracted driving is a deadly problem for drivers of all ages, so reminding teens not to drive distracted lays the foundation for a lifetime of safe driving. In Kentucky, teens under the age of 18 are prohibited from all personal communication device use while driving. However, teens can also be distracted by passengers, vehicle audio systems and advanced vehicle technologies found in newer vehicles. Teens and their parents can take the pledge to, “Don’t drive intoxicated, don’t drive intexticated” online at

AAA also stresses the importance for drivers of all ages, including teens, to buckle up when behind the wheel or riding as a passenger. Among drivers and front-seat passengers, seat belts reduce the risk of death by 45% and cut the risk of serious injury by 50 percent, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) data.

By setting parameters, new drivers can greatly minimize their risk of a crash. AAA recommends that regardless of their age when first learning to drive, new drivers should remember to “R.E.A.D the road”:

R = Right speed, for right now: Always mind the speed limit and reduce your speed when traveling in adverse weather conditions.

E = Eyes up, brain on: Always scan the road to anticipate dangers ahead. Eliminate distractions and keep your mind focused on the task of driving.

A = Anticipate their next move: Be aware of other drivers on the road. Anticipate their next move and always have a plan to respond.

D = Huge DONUT of space around your vehicle: Keep large amounts of space to the front and sides of your vehicle. has a variety of tools to help prepare parents and teach new drivers the rules of the road. The online AAA StartSmart program also offers great resources for parents on how to become effective in-car coaches as well as advice on how to manage their teen’s overall driving privileges. Novice drivers preparing for the responsibility of driving alone should enroll in a driver education program that teaches how to avoid driver distraction and other safety skills.