More Hoosier teens are waiting to get their driver’s licenses, thereby sidestepping a graduated driving system that requires more on-the-road driving experience before they can become fully licensed.
In Indiana, teen drivers younger than 18 are considered probationary license holders. Although all new drivers must first obtain a permit, those 18 and older do not have a probationary waiting period.
In Indiana, the number of 16-year-olds who received driver’s licenses in 2010 was 25,566. That number dropped to 3,757 a year later, according to the Federal Highway Administration.
“Getting a license is not the rite of passage it once was,” said Betti Bradtmiller, manager of Safeway Driving School in Fort Wayne.
Bradtmiller said that although all her driving classes were filled in 2011, there was a definite drop in the number of teens taking classes last year. She thinks it coincides with a stalled economy.
“There’s a lot of cost involved in getting a license – gasoline, car maintenance, insurance,” she said.
In northeast Indiana, completing a driver’s education course can run between $350 and $450.
Safeway charges $370, which includes 30 classroom hours and six hours of private driving instruction, Bradtmiller said.
According to a recent study by AAA, minorities and teens living in lower-income homes tended to wait longer to obtain their licenses for financial reasons.
Teen drivers can get a temporary permit at 15 1/2 . They can get a driver’s license at 16 1/2 if they provide driver education validation, or at 16 years and 9 months without driver’s education, Bradtmiller said.
“In other words, the teen can wait another three months and not have to pay for driver’s education, so many of them wait,” she said.
But that raises safety concerns, she said.
“Driving is the most dangerous thing they will do,” Bradtmiller said. “Car crashes are the leading cause of death for teenagers.”
State laws regarding teen drivers have changed several times in recent years, said Mike Clouse, owner of Driving Academy businesses in Greenwood and Fort Wayne.
“Parents and teens are often confused,” he said.
Clouse has not noticed a drop in numbers, but he said he has seen a lot of older students in his classrooms. Some simply did not seem interested in obtaining a driver’s license, Clouse said.
“Today’s kids are very active in school and sports, and their parents drive them everywhere,” he said. “I think many just don’t have the time.”
Fort Wayne-based Driving Academy instructor Kevin Jefferson agreed. He has also seen delays in training from lack of desire for a license; parents’ lack of trust in the teen’s maturity level; and financial barriers.
“We still have a lot of teens, but lately there have been more college students,” Jefferson said.
One of Jefferson’s students, Ryan Bennett, 18, a senior at Northrop High School, delayed getting his license.
“I just did not think I was responsible enough to get a permit when I was younger,” Bennett said candidly.
“It was a great challenge, and I had to study hard to pass the test, but I was so excited when I did.”
Caitlin Pepple, 17, a junior at North Side High School and also a student at the Driving Academy, said she did not think she needed driver’s education, but she has changed her mind.
“I feel I am better able to comprehend now,” Pepple said.
“And I think everyone should go to a professional class to learn how to drive.”
Another student, Colin Villanueva, did not get his license as soon as he was eligible.
“I have been so busy with family vacations, sports and school,” said Villanueva, a 16-year-old junior at Carroll High School. “Most of my friends already have their licenses.”
Years ago, many schools offered summer driver’s education courses, and local dealers donated cars for use in the program. But school budgeting constraints and the loss of car dealership incentives caused many school districts to eliminate or downsize programs.
Churubusco High School in Whitley County still offers driver’s education classes at the school, but students complete the driving instruction component at the Driving Academy in Fort Wayne.
Churubusco student Molly Blake, 16, obtained her license as soon as she could. But she has several 18-year-old friends who did not.
“One of my friends must pay for his own car and he has to get a job to do that, so he postponed getting his license,” Blake said. Another 18-year-old female friend is “just too scared to drive,” she said.
“I love having my license,” Blake said. “And my mom loves it that I have my license because she doesn’t have to drive me everywhere.”
Fort Wayne Community Schools served about 400 teens this year at its in-house driver’s education program, and the numbers are up, said Laura McCoy, program coordinator.
The school charges $395 for the certified course and offers it three times a year in the spring, she said.
The program is downtown at Anthis Career Center, and many of the participants ride buses, walk or bike to class, McCoy said.
“These kids are predominantly low-income, minorities or have different backgrounds,” she said.
The corporation helps students with financial arrangements when necessary, she said.
All 10 driving instructors are certified, and eight have more than 25 years of teaching experience each, McCoy said.
“We have a relationship with these students,” she said. “We know them personally, know where they’ve been and where they are going.”
Many people don’t realize how important driver’s education and past driving experience are to newly licensed teens, McCoy said.
While data show there is no difference in the rate of accidents among those who took driver’s education and those who did not, the same study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration shows that students who are parent-taught to drive are three times more likely to die in an accident.