NO HURRY; Fewer teens with driver's licenses.

AuthorSpencer, Susan

Byline: Susan Spencer

Eric Tran, 19, graduated in June from Fitchburg High School. Instead of celebrating his summer freedom cruising behind the wheel to hang out with friends, he's just finished a week of driver's education classes. He still has to complete behind-the-wheel training and take the road test to get his driver's license.

Getting a driver's license as soon as possible was a rite of passage for generations of teens, but the youthful love affair with cars has dropped off in recent years.

Reasons cited for the delay in teen driving include: the expense of driving and driver's education; being too busy to go through driver's education; a shift in social activities to include more online connection; "helicopter'' parents being more willing to chauffeur their teens; and a growing interest among young people in eco-friendly transportation alternatives such as bicycling and public transportation.

Some cite the adoption of graduated driver's license laws, which require more training and expense for people under age 18 to get on the road, as another hurdle.

Massachusetts instituted a graduated license law in 2007.

But whatever the reason, national and state numbers of young drivers are down.

According to researchers at the University of Michigan's Transportation Research Institute, in 1983 eight in 10 people ages 17 to 19 had their driver's license. In 2010 it was just six in 10.

In Massachusetts, the number of licensed 16-year-olds dropped to 7,608 in 2011 from 8,184 in 2008 and 10,418 in 2000, according to the Federal Highway Administration.

For 17-year-olds, there were 39,351 licensed drivers in 2011, compared to 43,655 in 2008 and 46,064 in 2000.

"I usually did sports a lot and was busy. With sports, school and work, I didn't have a lot of time,'' Mr. Tran said.

Being too busy was the No. 1 reason why 18-and-19-year-olds surveyed by the University of Michigan researchers didn't have a license, listed by 37.9 percent of respondents. It surpassed the cost of owning and maintaining a vehicle, which ranked second with 16.7 percent of top responses.

Mr. Tran said that in high school, he would get rides from friends who had licenses or from his parents. "It was kind of a hassle,'' he said.

Although driver's education classes and behind-the-wheel training are only required for those under age 18 under Massachusetts' graduated driving law, Mr. Tran opted to enroll in the program at Safe Roads Driving Academy in Fitchburg anyway.

He said...

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