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Fewer teens behind the wheel

Published March 08. 2014 09:00AM

The number of 16- and 17-year-old licensed drivers has been dropping faster than the gas gauge on a poorly tuned Ferrari.

In 1999, the year the Graduated Driver Licensing Program went into effect in Pennsylvania, there were 153,984 teen drivers on the roads.

In 2012, the number had dropped by almost half, to a record low of 79,383, according to the state Department of Transportation.

The decrease, one group believes, comes down to dollars and cents.

"There has been speculation that teens are losing interest in cars and driving due to the rise of cell phones and social media," said Kristin Nevels, spokeswoman for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in Arlington, Va.

"But (a) report from the Highway Loss Data Institute shows that the recent drop in teen driving likely comes down to simple economics. The decline coincided with the economic slowdown, and the shortage of work has disproportionately affected teenage job seekers," she said.

Nevels said unemployment rose at a higher rate for teenagers in the 14 to 19 year age group. Between 2006 and 2010, it increased by 11 percent, as opposed to 5 percent for those aged 35 to 54.

"Population changes, and changes in state licensing ages, contributed somewhat to the decline in the teen driver ratio," Nevels said. "But HLDI analysts estimated that 79 percent of it was connected with the increasing unemployment spread."

One local mother whose teenager is uninterested in driving had this to say.

"Keith is 16 and very leery of driving," Lysa Gallardo Grant of Jim Thorpe said. "We actually have spent very little time driving so far, as he does not want to drive. He will be 17 in April, and I had to drag him to the Motor Vehicle Department to get him to take his permit test.

"(It) seems (that) many kids his age have no interest in driving. Either they see no reason to leave their game systems, or social media lives or perhaps the graphic driving games have scared them. Either way, thought of driving in real life is not appealing to him. He wants to have a chauffeur in his future years," she said.

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