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Sep/Oct 2013 Issue

Most teens delay licensure, miss out on valuable training, AAA study finds

Despite the traditional view that teens are itching to begin driving as soon as possible, a new study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety has found that the majority of American teens today delay getting a driver’s license, raising concerns about their safety.

While older teens may be somewhat more mature, safety experts question whether these young adult drivers are missing the benefits intended by graduated drivers licensing (GDL) systems, which are designed to help ease novice motorists into unrestricted driving with stages through which they must graduate. The stages contain practice requirements and restrictions, such as limits on driving at night or with peer passengers. Most GDL programs end when the driver turns 18.

According to the study, however, less than half (44 percent) of teens obtain a license within 12 months of the minimum age for licensing in their state, and just over half (54 percent) are licensed before their 18th birthday. These findings mark a significant drop from two decades ago when more than two-thirds of teens were licensed by the time they turned 18.

“With one in three teens waiting to get their license until they turn 18, there’s a segment of this generation missing opportunities to learn under the safeguards that GDL provides,” said Peter Kissinger, president and CEO of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

Survey results suggest that few teens wait until 18 simply to avoid graduated driver licensing. Instead, a number of other reasons for delaying licensure were cited, including:

  • 44 percent – Did not have a car
  • 39 percent – Could get around without driving
  • 36 percent – Driving was too expensive
  • 35 percent – Just didn’t get around to it

“For a range of reasons, young adults increasingly are getting licensed without the benefit of parental supervision, extensive practice, and gaining experience under less risky conditions that are the hallmark of a safety-focused licensing system,” said AAA’s Director of State Relations Justin McNaull, adding that policymakers should examine whether existing GDL systems can be modified to improve safety for these young adult novice drivers.

AAA has worked for nearly two decades to get all states to adopt three-stage GDL systems (learner’s permit, intermediate license, unrestricted license). Previous AAA studies found that states with comprehensive GDL systems have experienced a 38 percent decrease in fatal crashes involving 16-year-olds.

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Put the brakes on winter driving control problems

Before winter brings inclement weather, AAA cautions motorists to inspect their tires and brakes, which are crucial to vehicle control, especially on slick roads.

“Brake components that are badly worn and bald or underinflated tires can’t provide the control needed for safe winter driving,” said Wayne Young, vice president of AAA Member Services. “Slick roads magnify brake and tire problems, so it’s important to have them inspected annually by a qualified technician. October’s AAA Car Care Month offers a reminder to check these vital components.”

Often the first sign of worn brakes is a brake pedal that requires more pressure to stop the vehicle. Scraping or squeaking noises when the brakes are applied are other signs of excessive brake wear. If the vehicle pulls to the left or right or shudders when applying the brakes, that could signal brake or suspension problems.

To find a repair shop to inspect your brakes, AAA’s Approved Auto Repair (AAR) program helps consumers find trusted facilities. A list of AAR shops is at

While checking brakes is a job best left to the experts, motorists can check to make sure their tires have the correct pressure. Using a tire gauge, check your tires’ pressure often, especially in the winter when tire pressure drops along with the temperature. The proper pressure for your tires is shown on the car’s door edge or door post, and in the owner’s manual.

Make sure your tires have sufficient tread to prevent skidding and hydroplaning. Place a penny into a tread groove with Lincoln’s head toward the tire at several points around the tire. If you can see all of his head, you should buy a new tire.

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