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John Townsend
Public Relations Manager, DC
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Media Note: Police Stop with Teen Driver

WASHINGTON, D. C. (Monday, October 21, 2019) ––For more than a century, it was hailed as a “rite of passage for many American teenagers.” Then the Great Recession hit. Now the number of teenagers getting their driver’s licenses is rebounding. As proof, more than 60% of teens obtained their driver’s license before the age of 18, according to new research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. An 11% increase since 2012.


The new report, released during National Teen Driver Safety Week, which runs October 20-26, reveals a changing trend in teen licensure from when the Foundation first evaluated 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 Dr. David Yang, executive director of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. “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.”


“Although the nation and the jurisdictions across the region witnessed a steep drop in the number of 16-year-olds with driver’s licenses since the early 1980s, now the number of licensed teen drivers is rising,” said John B. Townsend II, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Manager of Public and Government Affairs. “Teens today are learning to drive under a protocol that provides a longer ‘learning curve,’ and a bandwidth that fosters more supervised driving time, which in turn,  cultivates safe driving habits in novice drivers.”


The new AAA Foundation study surveyed young adults ages 18-24 to determine when they obtained their license and found that nationally, 40.8% got their license at or before age 16 and 60.3% got their license before the age of 18. Other findings show:


  • Only half (49.8%) of teens in large cities obtain their license before the age of 18, compared with nearly two-thirds of those in less urbanized areas.

  • Teens living in the Midwest tend to be licensed at younger ages -- 55% at or before age 16 and 70% before age 18. While only one-third (32.2%) of teens living in the West and fewer than a quarter (22.3%) of teens in the Northeast reported getting their license at or before age 16, only 56% (Northeast) and 48% (West) did so before age 18.


“Since the mid-1990s, the 50 states, including Maryland and Virginia, and the District, have enacted Graduated Driver’s License (GDL) laws, which set stricter standards, stipulations and rules for obtaining a learner’s permit or a driver’s license, such as the number of supervised driving hours, in addition to night and

passenger restrictions,” explained Townsend.


The myth of the vanishing teen driver is exposed. According to the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) database on driver licenses in force:


  • In 2017, a total of 206 teenagers 18 and under living in the nation’s capital held driver’s licenses issued by the District of Columbia. This compares to 164 licensed young drivers, 18 years old and younger, residing the District in 2014 and only 76 teens living in the city in that 18 and younger cohort in 2012. In 1990, the District had an aggregation of 8,094 licensed drivers 19 and under

  • In 2017, Maryland had 82,709 licensed drivers 18 years old and younger. In 2012, 36,687 teenagers 18 and younger were licensed to drive in the state, compared to 63,107 teens 19 and under. In contrast, 171,199 teens 19 and under were licensed in the state in 1990.

  • Approximately 140,281 teenagers 18 and younger held driver licenses in Virginia during 2017. In contrast in 2012, 70,248 teenagers 18 and under, and a total 106,960 teens age 19 and younger, were licensed to drive by the Commonwealth, compared to 240,162 teens in that age group and cohort in 1990.


Past AAA Foundation research 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. All states have in place graduated driver licensing (GDL) systems 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 requirements for teens with learner’s permits, followed by restricted licenses that limit driving at night or with peer passengers.


The District, Maryland and Virginia have systems of graduated licensing for novice drivers, explains the AAA Digest of Motor Laws. “In the District of Columbia, license applicants younger than 21 must go through the intermediate stage until they have completed it or until they turn 21.  The learner’s stage is mandatory for the intermediate stage. A nighttime restriction (9 p.m. - 6 a.m.) applies in the learner stage.”


Maryland mandates “60 supervised driving hours for all applicants younger than 25. Driver education is required for license applicants younger than 18 in Virginia. Northern Virginia and nearby counties (Planning District 8) have implemented a 90-minute segment for parents of driver education students.”


“Drivers younger than 18 in the District face nighttime driving restrictions and they may not carry more than 2 passengers younger than 21. The night and passenger restrictions only apply to intermediate license holders younger than 18 in Maryland. Over in Virginia, passenger and nighttime driving restrictions apply to learners’ permit holders.”


“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 Jennifer Ryan, AAA director of state relations. “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.”


A previous AAA Foundation study 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. Nearly 28% of the young adults in the 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%).

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

  • Driving was too expensive (33.3%).

  • Too busy to get a license (28.9%).

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

“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 Dr. Bill Van Tassel, AAA manager of driver training programs. “Novice drivers shouldn’t let the first time that they drive in the rain or on the freeway be at a time when they’re alone.”


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.


Established in 1947 by AAA, the AAA Foundation’s mission is to prevent traffic deaths and injuries by conducting research into their causes and by educating the public about strategies to prevent crashes and reduce injuries when they do occur. This research is used to develop educational materials for drivers, pedestrians, bicyclists and other road users. Visit



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AAA provides automotive, travel and insurance services to 60million members nationwide and over 81,000 members in the District of Columbia.  AAA advocates for the safety and mobility of its members and has been committed to outstanding road service for more than 100 years.  The not-for-profit, fully tax-paying member organization works on behalf of motorists, who can now map a route, find local gas prices, discover discounts, book a hotel and track their roadside assistance service with the AAA Mobile app for iPhone, iPad and Android. For more information, visit

TEDx Wilmington Salon

Who's in the Driver's Seat? The Transformation of Transportation

On Tuesday, October 17, 2017, AAA and TEDx Wilmington held the first TEDx Salon dedicated to ideas worth spreading in transportation.

This event had:

  • 12 live talks given by 13 speakers
  • 368 people in attendance at the live event
  • More than 7,500 viewed the event online through Livestream, viewing events, and on the AAA Associate network
  • Online viewers came from all 50 states and approximately 30 countries around the world

View a slideshow from the event

This TEDx WilmingtonSalon was organized in partnership with AAA

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