January 18, 2022

Losing their drive?

More teens delaying the decision to get their licenses

Jacob DeRochie/contributing photographer

Marcus Lombardo, of Tully, and driving instructor Brian White get ready for an afternoon driving lesson starting at the Burger King on Groton Avenue.

When Tully high schooler Marcus Lombardo turned 16, he wanted to get his driver’s license as soon as possible.

He wanted the independence of being able to drive himself around. And he definitely wanted to have it before he went off to college.

So Lombardo is spending his summer taking driver’s education classes with Able 2 Driving School.

He’s becoming the outlier. According to a recent study by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, the number of young people with a driver’s license is diminishing.

The study found 87.3 percent of 19-year-olds had a driver’s license in 1983, down to 75.5 percent in 2008 and 69.5 percent in 2010.

The numbers are down for 16-year-olds, too. In 1983, 46 percent of 16-year-olds were licensed, falling to 31 percent in 2008 and 28 percent in 2010, according to the study.

So while Lombardo endured the experience of so many teenaged student drivers — realizing there’s a difference between accelerator and brake, how to cope with uptight and occasionally controlling parents as passengers and that bane of so many drivers’ tests, parallel parking — his 17-year-old friend Connor McCasland busied himself with other things.

McCasland has only driven a couple of times in an empty parking lot with a parent. It’s just not a priority for McCasland, who’s busy with his robotics club and a youth leadership club at the library.

“I think it would be useful to have but it’s not something I think is super necessary for me at this point in time,” he said.

But Lombardo enjoys it — though he finds maneuvering turns and parallel parking challenging — and is looking forward to getting behind the wheel alone for the first time.

While Lombardo wanted his independence right away, Able 2 Operations Manager Jason Rockwell says he’s noticed at his driving school, that’s becoming more rare.

“What we’ve noticed is people getting their license for the first time, that age has gone up,” he said.

Increasingly, instead of young people rushing out on their 16th birthday to get their license, they are waiting until they are 18, 19, or even 20 to get their license, he said.

McCasland does plan to get his license before he graduates, though. He’s still not sure where he wants to go to college after his last year at Tully, but he’s pretty sure by then it would be helpful to have a driver’s license.

Until then, he has his parents and friends, and soon Lombardo, to give him a ride.