By on June 23, 2010

Fewer 16-year-olds are registering for driver’s licenses in Illinois, according to Chicago Breaking News… but why?

[In 2006] Illinois lawmakers doubled the number of hours — to 50 from 25 — of adult-supervised driving required before a driver with a learner’s permit could get a license. The next year, the number of 16-year-olds with licenses dropped by nearly 5 percent — to 74,675 from 78,250 — even though the state’s teen population increased.

Then, on Jan. 1, 2008, Illinois imposed a sweeping overhaul of teen driving laws, the heart of which tripled the length of time — to 9 months from 3 months — a teen driver must possess a learner’s permit before acquiring a license. That year, the number of 16-year-olds with licenses dropped again, this time by 17 percent, to 61,862.

The decrease is continuing. The Illinois secretary of state’s office estimates that fewer than 60,000 driver’s licenses were issued to 16-year-olds in 2009.

The usual economy and internet-based explanations are trotted out, but it seems that mandating supervised driving hours keeps kids out of cars. And though that’s good news for Illinois drivers, it’s certainly not a trend that the auto industry wants to see followed. After all, safety is a box on an option list, not something that reduces demand for cars, right? On the other hand, just because kids aren’t registering for driver’s licenses, doesn’t mean they’re not driving. Should we do away with mandatory supervision to drive the market for cars, or should supervised hours or a more thorough form of mandatory training be instituted? Or, should the legal driving age simply be moved up to 18? Better yet, forget the politics: do you let your 16 year-old drive, and if so how do you prepare them?

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33 Comments on “Ask The Best And Brightest: Driving At Age 16?...”

  • avatar

    Aren’t you just postponing the inevitable by trying to keep young adults from driving until they reach an older young adult age? I don’t see much difference between an inexperienced 16 y/o behind the wheel and the same inexperienced individual two years later.

    • 0 avatar

      Current research shows that there is an enormous difference between teens and young adults in the area of the brain responsible for decision making. This area is not well developed until about the age of 20. Keeping impulsive teens out of the driver’s seat for a few years makes a huge difference. This does leave the question of whether they’ll still get excited about driving later in life.

    • 0 avatar

      John.fritz I don’t know why you haven’t run for office yet, but its a shame. This comment has been the smartest thing that I’ve seen in a while. Thank you at least I can sleep tonight knowing that at least one American can understand common since. You are truly awesome.

  • avatar
    Domestic Hearse

    Growing up (decades ago) in a western, rural, agrarian state, I was issued a license at age 14. I couldn’t wait. Nor was I ready. Imagine then, had I been a “farm kid”, I could have had my license as early as age 12.

    Today in Illinois, I’ve had many conversations with parents about the strict new licensure requirments they (the parents) and their children must meet. Like homework projects issued by eager young teachers, much of the burden falls on the parents to complete, provide, or assist Junior with. That, right there, is a fairly large reason why the teen driver numbers are down in Illinois.

    But then, I ask the kids, “Are you getting your learner’s permit soon? Are you excited!” (Because I know I was at that age.)

    Their respense, “Meh.”

    They don’t care. The car, which for me and my friends was the tool we used to meet and socialize, no longer is.

    I know kids in college in Illinois who have yet to get their license. “What’s the point?” they ask. “As long as I have a few friends who drive, why should I go through the trouble or expense?”

    Why indeed? It seems, then, that the car is the new “boat.” The best kind to have the one in your friend’s driveway.

    Much to my petrolhead dismay, the car has lost out to Facebook, Twitter, Skype, IM, text messaging and all the other social media technologies. These, not the car, are the instruments that serve to bond kids. It’s a virtual world for them. The car is yestertech. “Like, when you actually have to GO somewhere, lol.”

    It still seems hard for me to comprehend. “You mean, you’d rather hang out with a couple friends in the basement and bang on your cellphone pads all night than run around in a car, like my Porsche?”

    “What’s a Porsche?” one teenage girl asked, not even slowing her fiddling thumbs for a second.

    “Get off my lawn,” I murmered under my breath. Wait, I’m at my neighbor’s house, I remembered.

    So there you have it. On one hand, the numbers are down because of the drag on parents’ time. On the other, the kids really don’t care any more. As long as Mom and Dad are paying for their minutes or high speed wifi, and are available to drive them around, then the once-cherished drivers license is No. Big. Deal.

    • 0 avatar

      The car is yestertech. “Like, when you actually have to GO somewhere, lol.”

      It still seems hard for me to comprehend. “You mean, you’d rather hang out with a couple friends in the basement and bang on your cellphone pads all night than run around in a car, like my Porsche?”

      “What’s a Porsche?” one teenage girl asked, not even slowing her fiddling thumbs for a second.

      I don’t know whether to laugh, cry, or put my head through my keyboard…

      So, in a few years – as a 40 something successful (and bald guy) – when I (finally complete the stereotype and) buy a 2 year old Cayman, I’ll have absolutely no chance with any 22 year old hottie?

    • 0 avatar

      Just flash a wad of cash, and you will be fine. Just make sure not to get robbed!

    • 0 avatar
      Domestic Hearse

      Bad news for ya, ihatetrees…

      Once you turn 30, and I don’t care if you already own a new GT3, you’re invisible to hot 22 year olds.

      A shrewd one may take notice and pursue. But it’s not you or the car she’s interested in. Avoid.

  • avatar

    Our daughters both drove at 16 in Houston, and it terrified us. There is a large body of data supporting delaying driving to at least 18. Even older is better still. Kids really are not developmentally ready and generally do not have sufficient judgment at 16 to operate a car safely. Of course there are exceptions. The same reasoning about brain development is why society tries to prevent drinking before age 21.

    • 0 avatar

      Completely disagree. Kids will rise or fall to the expectations set for them. And too many parents aren’t willing to set high expectations, and then follow it up and enforce the rules when they are broken. And they will be broken because teenagers are teenagers.

      As a society we tend to baby and coddle our children far too much, and this by default sets low expectations for them learning how to make decisions, make mistakes and learn from their mistakes. Look at all the “helicopter” parents who barely let their teenagers decide what color of shirt to wear in the morning, let alone where to go to college or what sport to play.

      I spent 9 year on active duty in the US Navy, a lot of it on aircraft carriers where the average age of the crew is, like, 20. And these 18, 19 and 20 year olds – not even of legal drinking age yet – were responsible for maintaining $40 million combat aircraft, arming them with bombs and missiles, and shooting them off the catapults and recovering them when they returned. And guess what.These “kids” rose to the responsibilities expected of them. And did so magnificently.

    • 0 avatar

      Completely disagree too. Would you rather her drive to college as her first driving experience? No one does the math. Most 16 year old driving is within 10 miles of the house. Most 18 year old driving is 100s of miles away.

  • avatar

    I had the argument before: that the lower costs of owning an automobile resulted in higher youth employment than in Europe. No summer jobs in your town — drive 3 over. Need an after school job: get a car (or get a job to get the car!) Getting people early on the working path is the best way to avoid welfare.

    The point about facebook is very true — heavily structured after-school time also has something to do with it for a small minority of kids.

  • avatar

    Both my daughters got licenses at 16 here in Maine. Both had some driving experience prior to that age, but not much (farm and island). They drove in winter as well as summer, and generally did well. 2 very minor fender-benders (same daughter). They were restricted to an old F-150 4WD and my wife’s AWD Grand Caravan until they were ready for the stick shift, which is what they both drive today.

    I believe in a graduated license, but think that starting out at 16 is fine, as long as they have a healthy respect for the job at hand. If they don’t, the parents should hold them back.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    First. Ohio had a 50 hour requirement when my kids turned 16. They all complied with it with me sitting shotgun.

    Second. There is a lot of neurological and psychological evidence that shows 16 year olds are not mature enough to handle automobile driving on modern crowded highways.

    Our ancestors who delayed full adulthood until 21 were closer to right in that respect.

    If I had my druthers, driving and voting would be at older ages and drinking at younger.

    • 0 avatar

      Ummm no. Our ancestors did not delay full adulthood until 21. Our ancestors conferred full adulthood at much younger ages than we did. By necessity with shorter lifesoans and higher mortality rates people didn’t have the luxury of waiting so many years before taking full societal responsibility.

    • 0 avatar


      How far are you going back? In historical terms, only very, very recently has 21 been less than middle-aged. As in you’ll be lucky to make it another 21 years.

      The military (ours included) would love to have you as a soldier at 13 or 14. Young, dumb, and fulla…

      We currently place 18 yos in harm’s way, and give them the ultimate control of weapons that god would own, if only he could afford them. Alexander the Great has assumed the throne by age 20, if memory serves.

      Yes, it’d be nice if we all hatched, slightly post-pubescent with the wisdom we have at, say, 40. But it doesn’t work like that.

      Growing up is messy. Life is messy. We’re all going to die – some far too young, and some far later than they deserved.

  • avatar

    I personally don’t see much point in mandating adult-supervised driving in the first place. Most adults don’t seem to be much better drivers than any of the high school kids I see tooling around. Are they more experienced? You could say that, but I say they’ve just had more time to settle into their bad habits. Once a kid learns how to physically operate a car, all that’s really left to do is work out the initial jitters, and I don’t see how that could be made easier by spending more time with a nagging parent trying to drive for you from the passenger seat.

    Of course, my opinion is a little biased due to my own experiences learning how to drive. While on my permit at the age of 15, I talked my father into letting my learn how to drive a standard in his ’91 Aerostar. Thirty seconds later, I grinded a gear for the first time and that was the end of my stick-shifting lessons forever. The only other adults who taught me to drive were my brother and his best friend who taught me that every drive was a race, and my mother who taught me that every time I sat behind the wheel I was doing something wrong. The only adults who helped me learn to drive in any way were my Class C driving instructor and, several years later, my Class A driving instructor.

    In summation: Driving, in my opinion, is something that requires practice, not supervision. If parents prepare their kids for it, the kids should be confident and mature enough to go out on the road and handle themselves without a monkey on their backs. If the kids don’t know how to handle themselves, then what good does it do to increase the amount of time they have to spend “learning” from their parents who didn’t teach them properly in the first place?

  • avatar

    So far so good (KOW!) with my 20-year old daughter and 17 year old son. To get them some pre-license experience we allowed them to drive in the country and empty parking lots (with one of us in the passenger seat, of course) starting at age 14, and let them park the car an back out of the garage at home. In my state you’re required to take driver’s ed (all commercial now – the schools no longer provide DE) prior to getting your license, which they did at age 15. It also helps that state law prohibits non-family passengers in the car until they turn 17.

    I think kids rise (or fall) to the level of expectations you give them. Give ’em low expectations and they’ll surely meet them; give ’em high expectations and they’ll meet those. It’s parenting 101: You have to set the rules and expectations clearly, and be prepared to enforce the rules if they are broken.

    To help in this regard, my wife and had our kids sign a driving contract on their 16th birthday, and I’d like to think this helped set their minds straight on driving. The contract spells out explicitly what will happen – they lose their driving privileges – if they break the rules spelled out in the contract. It gives my wife and I HUGE leverage over their grades and overall behavior.

    My son tested his contract last fall when his grades fell below our stipulated minimum, and indeed we took away the car until he got them back up. He had to ride the bus to school for about three weeks, which he had to pay for and wasn’t happy about at all, and if he missed the bus and needed us to take him to school we charged him $5 per ride. Well, it worked. No problems since (at least that we know of).

    I’d be happy to provide a copy of the contract for anyone who’s interested.

  • avatar

    @DomesticHearse and others.

    Do not dispair a future generation is coming that loves cars. I teach middle schoolers, they talk, they get excited. Some love domestics, some love import tuner cars, some love lifted trucks.

    Remember my “New or Used?” question? One of my male students (age 13) saw me looking at responses to my question right at the end of the day while students were getting their things together to go home. His input? “Get a 1970 Impala Sedan. Room for the whole family.”

    Don’t worry guys the kids are alright.

  • avatar

    Please put “just because kids aren’t registering for driver’s licenses, doesn’t mean they’re not driving” in big bold letters, thanks.

    Also, I live in an area with a substantial number of people in their mid- to late-20’s who are just learning to drive, and if you think they’re magically safer because of their age despite their inexperience, you’re delusional.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m with you for the most part, with the exception of one minor point.

      While the mid-20s noob is no more competent than a 16 year old in terms of raw skill, I would offer that the millenials have gotten to that stage of being aware of their own mortality.

      Brain science and all that. Has some benefits, but i don’t see enough to deprive 16 year olds their shot at the wheel.

  • avatar

    So, if a teenager must have a learner’s permit for at least 9 months before acquiring a full license, and (I assume) must wait until age 16 to get the permit, then it makes sense that the number of 16-year-olds with full licenses (that is what is being counted, isn’t it?) would decrease. A 16-year-old would have to obtain a permit within three months of his birthday in order to have a chance of having a full license before turning 17, whereas before the change, he would have had nine months to do so.

  • avatar

    Ok, being 16, 17, 18, 23, 25, 28… It really comes to the time when the driver understands besides the basic skills to operate a motor vehicle that they are not invincible and have to be considerate of other motorists on the road and be understanding of possible mistakes they might make considering the mistake they make that they don’t see. That age varies per individual. I know it took me a bit and thank goodness I did not hurt myself or more importantly someone else in learning that I can die driving. Its not the car its the skill or lack there of the drivers. Still today I recognize I like everyone have my moments of stupidity but as I have gotten older those times have decreased. Unless your on a road by yourself, driving is a very social environment with usually subtle cues for communication. If your on the horn usually your too late.

  • avatar

    I didn’t get my license till I was 17 because I couldn’t get a full license with driver’s ed till then.

    Now I see Jersey has required stickers for drivers 16-21, thats age discrimination. Wheres the stickers for new drivers of ANY age? Wheres the stickers for those 70+ and still on the road? They’d never get away with the latter in an AARP world.

  • avatar

    I have now taught 3 kids to drive in Illinois, the last being under the latest rules.
    We drove MORE than the 50 hours because I didn’t think Jeff was ready.
    To this day, there has not ONE ticket or accident with any of these three kids.

    As far as the survey you took, it’s all wrong.
    THE most tech gadget, internet, texting and facebook kid I have is the one that drives the most.
    Meeting friends here, going to a party there.
    Just got a call from Katie, she’s at the work out center and then is meeting everybody at the whatchamacallit popular restaurant.
    Nothing but driving.

    Yes, my two boys don’t leave the cave/bedroom.
    But even they drive to school, sports and friends homes.
    So I don’t know what neighborhood you live in or what the difference is with your area’s kids, but mine drive.
    I have 5 cars in the driveway to show for it.

    But it’s amazing how many parents DON’T do the required driving.
    They simply fill out the paperwork and turn it in. My neighbor did/does this.
    His daughters have more than 5 accidents between them, one totaled car.

  • avatar

    A mere few hours with a half-assed effort by a long-haul trucker with minimal experience himself to train me and three other trainees in the modified semi cab and during daylight hours only during good weather and I was on my own, solo, teaching myself the many intricacies of taking a big-rig across the country during all weather types over every kind of terrain a paved road crossed… and gravel roads in the most remote areas.

    21 years old, the minimum allowable by federal law.

    Sure, I made mistakes but none that harmed me, others or the semi.

    I truly desired to NOT harm ANYBODY for moral reasons.

    No tailgating, ever. No logical reason to EVER tailgate!!! Neither have I ever done it in a 4-wheeler.

    Speed? I’ve done it but on the open road with fine road conditions and never at a pace that would create a hazard.

    Of course, that was the era of the nation-wide “double-nickle” speed limit; 55 mph maximum.

    It was so damnably boring crossing states such as the great plains states almost all truckers exceeded 55 mph when possible.

    However, when conditions demanded a slower speed than the posted limit…. alrighty!!!!!! Anything to avoid an “accident.” “Wreck” is a better term than “accident” since Prior Proper Planning to Prevent Piss-poor Performance has much truth in that adage.


    An attitude that places the well-being of those around you over and above your own desires, if implemented and stuck with, could greatly reduce road fatalities and injuries. But, observe the typical American driver’s actions and inactions and guess to what extent they are placing others’ well-being over their own wants and desires and concern for others.

    Put in enough miles behind the wheel being observant all-the-while and a reasonably intelligent person learns to “read” others’ actions, even before those actions occur.

    Even the manner a driver is holding their head can give critical clues as to what is likely to happen next, such as a 4-wheeler cutting directly in front of your rig (or car) and slamming on their brakes while staring at an exit sign ahead.

    More than once my hitting the brakes before that 4-wheeler jumping in front of me without warning prevent a wreck and may have saved a life.

    Experienced truckers with true “trucker ability” have the same or similar tales to tell.

    Non-truckers can acquire the skill… reading others and guesstimating what that other driver may do in the next few seconds based upon minimal clues and cues.

    Not all folks possess the “situational awareness” required to perform feats of that type.

    Even minor things such as hand placement position on the steering wheel can provide critical clues.

    With the advent of cell phones for the motoring masses one particularly telling indicator is the brain-dead driver yapping away with their head tilted to the side where the cell phone is planted against their head.

    Those drivers tend to be the least aware of their environment/surroundings and more prone to perform the most gawd-awful stupid stunts; more-so than the cell phone user whose head remains in a vertical position.

    Watch and observe for yourself.

    Of course, exceptions exist in anything to do with humans but tendencies are real and those aware of tendencies enhance their situational awareness.

    One place to gain training for situational awareness is in the military with fighter pilots perhaps receiving the most thorough intensive/extensive training in that area.

  • avatar

    Driver’s license at 16? Hell, I had a pilot’s license at 16. Looking back from the far side of 50, the only surprising thing is that I managed to survive until 17. With adult passengers, instructors, etc., I came across as perfectly sober, safe, and highly skilled. Put me in a plane with other (non-pilot) teenagers, however, and I would sometimes start pushing the limits. In a couple of cases, only luck prevented me from making a smoking hole in the ground.

    The reason for adult supervision is not to somehow improve the new drivers skills, it’s to prevent the group psychosis that occasionally takes over when you get more than one unsupervised teenager in any sort of vehicle…

  • avatar

    I barely drove at all with my mother, she was too nervous. My dad was sick, and he let me drive us to and from work the summer before he crashed his car and couldn’t drive anymore. He was a very good teacher, having me take all kinds of different routes, side streets, main roads, and interstates, and only making comments when I really did something wrong. When he went into the hospital for a while, my mom called one of the local driving schools, and the owner took me out after school for 2 hours at a crack two or three times a week. My folks decided to keep up the driving lessons, even though the owner said I was more than ready to get my license. Between my dad, the driving school, and a little bit with my sister, I had a lot of hours behind the wheel. When my dad got his insurance cancelled after he passed out driving home one morning, I had my license an hour after I got out of school that day. I was taking driver’s ed at school, and was driving their car with my license in my pocket.

    And I still got into a huge wreck 3 weeks after I got my license! I was only partly at fault, but it never would have happened if the other driver hadn’t been going about twice the 35MPH speed limit (He admitted it). If I had looked to my left a second time, I might have seen him, but I didn’t, and my car (My sister’s actually) was totaled. A 71 Cutlass versus a 62 VW is no contest, the bug won.

  • avatar

    Not knowing the intricacies of Illinois law, if the driver waits until 17 or 18 to get the license, do they still have to have to go through the hours of hand-held driving to get a real license? If not, they may be delaying just to avoid the hassle.

    I know I was rearing to get my license when I turned 16. In my home state at the time you had to take and pass driver’s ed in school, get signed off by the teacher, and then have a parent sign off that you had done so many hours with them. Pretty much everyone I knew just wrote in the hours and had the parent sign the card. I can’t imagine not wanting to get my license, but then again, it wasn’t incredibly difficult. The license meant freedom, freedom to go out with friends wherever, explore new places, and of course, the biggest draw – a much great chance to engage in some good old fashioned coitus.

    Having a restriction that the license couldn’t be used after dusk, and therefore excluding the option of finding a secluded area of state park in the middle of the night for some recreational activity would have made the license far less appealing. Even without that though, I am assuming 16 year olds still date, what do they do now, have their parents drop them off and pick them up? Unless you live in the middle of a city there isn’t a whole lot date worthy that is within walking distance these days.

    Now, I had a couple accidents when I was learning, thankfully no one got hurt, and my old Jeep held together, in fact it which it was bestowed with the moniker ‘Battle Wagon’ by my friends after it tore open the side of a Lincoln Continental while sustaining no more damage than a dented bumper. I did some stupid things with the car, my friends and I would ‘race’ each other on public roads getting from point A to point B, I turned the wrong way onto an eight lane highway and had to jump a curb to get out of the way of oncoming traffic, and I spun out and did some 180s and 360s when the roads were icy, but I lived and learned.

    Driving is dangerous, but so is life in general. Every restriction in the name of safety is the loss of another freedom. Teenagers need the chance to get out, to explore, and to get in over their heads once in a while so they learn how to deal with it. When you are 16 and you screw up the consequences are generally a lot less than when you are 21 and do the same thing. In my experience those who grew up with severely overprotective parents were the ones who went the furthest off the deep end when finally given some autonomy later in life, and at that point you can get yourself so far gone you might not make it back.

    I don’t yet have kids, but if and when I do I would absolutely let them drive at 16. Yes it may be dangerous, and yes they might be at a higher risk, but the situations that arise from that build character. The lessons learned that you remember most are the ones taught by experience and my your own mistakes.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    Cars and driving are becoming more and more of a hassle and less and less of a pleasure for young people today. Many of the ones I’ve known have been in no hurry at all to get a permit and license.

    Times are changing.

  • avatar

    A 16-year-old can be an effective driver with the right incentives and limitations. A kid who pays for a car is more likely to take care of it. A kid who pays for his insurance is less likely to commit traffic violations. Limit the car for use at particular times, with particular functions, with certain numbers of people, or without certain electronics, and you reduce the risk that a combination of these factors will overwhelm your kid.

    That said, there’s no substitute for experience. The mechanics of driving won’t tell you how to judge the speed of oncoming traffic, to predict when a driver will jump out of a line of cars, or not to drive in front of semitrailers. This ability to anticipate the behavior of other drivers takes time to fortify, but attentiveness, the second puzzle piece, is available to anyone. I think time with an adult driver trained to point out these things should be mandated.

    For the inevitable lapses in personal responsibility, I’m also in favor of tell-tale GPS tracking. If not location, then at least maximum speed. Garmin units track that automatically; if you wire one to start with the car, you’ll always know how fast it’s gone. Then you can have your kid explain exactly what sort of traffic condition required pushing into triple-digits.

    To directly counter Nullo’s comment above, I disagree with this line:

    “When you are 16 and you screw up the consequences are generally a lot less than when you are 21 and do the same thing.”

    High-profile teenage deaths are often the impetus to change driving laws. The courts may be lenient to minors, but physics certainly isn’t.

  • avatar

    In answer to the question, as long as they get learner’s permits early, and practice, I’m not going to worry if they don’t get drivers licenses until much later. I want them to learn the physical skill early.

    In other matters, @domestic hearse, +100

  • avatar
    Domestic Hearse

    One last observation on why kids aren’t getting their licenses in Illinois…

    Don’t know about your state, but this one is suffering an almost 40% budget shortfall this year. We’re billions and billions and billions in the hole.

    We’re pink slipping teachers faster than we indict governors.

    And which teachers, do you suppose, are shown the door? Phys Ed, music, art, drama and of course, drivers ed. (And first-year teachers, no matter what subject they teach).

    That means (and has meant, for the last several years) that Junior has to wait till his junior (sometimes senior) year before he can get into a DE class at his school (if it’s offered at all). So if he wants that learners permit at 16, Mom and Dad gotta puke up the money for private DE instruction. Or Junior’s gotta mow a lot more lawns and pay for it himself. Yeah. Like that’s gonna happen.

    Sure, there’s plenty of parents with the bank to buy their kid private instruction. And still a few kids who still think cars are cool. These kids still find a way to get behind the wheel. But the times, they are a’changin’.

  • avatar

    I’m 22 and live in Quebec, Canada. The rules about getting a driving permit are fairly strict compared to most US states it seems. In order for anyone to get a full permit you must hold a learner’s permit for a year. During that time you must drive with a licensed adult. After you must hold a probationary permit for another year, and you may only collect a total of 4 demerit points (the full number is 15). When I got my permit driving school was not mandatory, however it is now, and I believe is more than 50 hours. There are still a lot of people on the road that don’t look like they should be however, young and old.

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