Education As Incapacitation: Why Are States Making it Harder to Get a Learner's Permit?


I got in trouble earlier this summer when a teacher caught me surfing the Internet during a “Safe Driving Practices” class I had to attend so that my son could get his Connecticut driver’s license. While a parent has to attend for 2 hours, a 16-year-old must attend for a mind-numbing 8 hours before qualifying to take a written test. The mandatory class is part of Connecticut’s graduated driver licensing requirements, which make it (i) harder for a 16 or 17-year-old to get a learner’s permit, (ii) harder to get a license, and (iii) severely limits the kinds of driving you can do with these licenses.

I was surfing the Internet during class, because something the instructor said about accident statistics since the program was rolled out in 2008 seemed defensive – so I started to look up Connecticut statistics online.

Having attended 2 hours of the training, I seriously doubted that the 8-hour classes serve an educational function.  Nonetheless, surfing made me feel somewhat better about having to sit there because I learned that the new requirements are having an impact: they’re deterring young people from getting their licenses. Look, for example, at what happened to the number of 16 and 17-year-olds receiving learner permits in 2008 when the law took effect (which I calculated from this data):

A new state study on teen driving indicates that the rate at which 16 and 17-year-olds are becoming licensed to drive is down sharply since the new law went into effect. In 2001, 42% of 16-year-olds were licensed to drive. Now only 29% are. Connecticut’s experience is consistent with a national trend: “the proportion of 16-year-olds nationwide who hold driver’s licenses has dropped from nearly half to less than one-third, according to statistics from the Federal Highway Administration.

The study points to a number of factors causing this decline, including reduced “discretionary spending in a poorly performing economy,”  “restrict[ed] the use of cars on campus,” parents being more “willing to chauffeur their children to activities, and pastimes like surfing the Web that keep them indoors and glued to computers.”

But I’m betting that the hassle factor of the new restrictions looms large. You have to do a lot more to get a license and there is less that you can do with a minor’s license if you do qualify. It’s a whole lot easier just to wait until you’re 18 when none of these special prophylactics apply.

A closer look at the data suggests that young males and females are being equally deterred from getting their licenses. As a matter of gender equality, this might seem like a good thing, but young male drivers are about twice as dangerous as young female drivers (see statistics here and here). I worry that the new law is deterring a lot of young women from driving (or making them jump through a bunch of arbitrary hoops) in order to keep the more dangerous male of the species off the road.

I also worry that the restrictions likely have pronounced class effects. The 16-year-olds who can afford to pay for the class and who can get their parents to take the 2 hour class are likely to have more resources than those who don’t.  Like literacy tests for voting, the most important impact of the new educational requirements for driving is to incapacitate citizens from exercising the right or privilege. A special poll tax for young drivers might accomplish much the same result. But by reframing impedance as education, we make the requirements more politically palatable.


The unspoken goal of these kinds of programs is to reduce the number of accidents this age group is involved in by simply reducing the number drivers in that age group. Wait 5 years and watch the accidents shift to the age group where the blocked drivers actually start driving.


I hate this. We treat our kids like they are helpless. I took driver's ed. I turned 16 and got my license. I got a job. My parents who were not well off never had to give me any money from there on out. The job I got was pretty far away from my house and I could not have had that job without a car. BTW the car my folks got me was a junker, but it got me from A to B. The job I got paid $1.65 over min wage and I got tons of hours.

The pride I got from making my own money was priceless and had a lasting effect on my life.

Also the only accident I ever got into while in high school was when a man in his 50s rear-ended me. I guess we should have made him and his parents take a class.

I don't want to haul my kids around when they turn 16, but I probably will have to.


Too many teens cannot get decent paying jobs anymore since we allowed illegal immigrants to scoop up those jobs for less wages. Just sayin'..


Yeah, all these regulations are having an impact: When I got a job that required a car my wife had to drive me there and back for 18 months. I managed not to need a license in high school because I lived in a walkable suburb, and I avoided it in college because I went to an urban school, and had internships instead of summer breaks. So I was 24, just out of college as a professional computer scientist, and I had to wait months, take a Driver's Ed class that I already took in HS, and submit a drivers log proving I had 60 hours of experience. None of that made me a better driver, but it was a major pain in the ass, big waste of fuel, and a strain on our new marriage.


Young people and any intelligent people who care about the world around them are stopping driving. Maybe this was just the bump most teens needed as they have already learned about the many damages of driving a car far beyond accidents.

The older generation is overweight and lazy and will never stop driving no matter what the cost. This is a very different situation for younger people who have not already destroyed their bodies with inactivity and fast food.


I live and have always lived in LA. I didn't learn to drive until I was 23, after completing college (while living 10 miles from campus) and beginning to work in the entertainment industry. I didn't really have the money to spend... not just on the car, but the unending additional expenses... gas, registration, parking fees, repairs, etc.

I didn't have to beg rides from friends. I knew how to get around on my own w/o much problem, even in LA in the 1970s. I still can. If my car breaks down, I have the confidence that I can get home anyway. I didn't take the plunge until forced to because my work demanded that I drive, not just going to and from, but in the course of work. My hours became long and strange, and my work place an ever-moving target.

In looking back, I'm glad I did not begin driving until 23. Instead, I gained confidence a different sort of independence that I could not have gained by just jumping in a car and going. I learned the city at street level. I simply do not think that at 16 or 17 I was ready to drive, and I subconsciously knew it.

Perhaps I was ready by age 18, but by then learning, getting a car, etc was not only still unaffordable, but a hassle that I was fine doing w/o.



Two items:
1. So has anyone questioned about if the auto insurance industry is promoting the tighter restrictions?

2. So has anyone identified the penetration of cell phones, social media, and computer use among 16-17 year olds over the same time span? This goes hand in hand with the decline of shopping malls since teens no longer need to physically connect now to stay connected.

John B

In addition to the rules prior to getting a license, Connecticut restricts how you drive once you have the license. 16-17 year olds are not allowed have another young person in the car with them.

So, when my daughter and her two friends went to the movies., the Connecticut law required three young girls to drive in 3 different cars. Gee, that makes a lot of sense:
1. Use 3 times the gas. Great for the environment.
2. Puts 3 cars on the road instead of 1; bad for congestion.
3. 3 young drivers on the road at the same time; if they are as unsafe as the state claims, you just increased the odds of an accident.
4. Forced young girls to drive alone at night; less safety.
5. I am certain you can find other reasons why this made no sense.

Eric M. Jones.

Apropos of driving...

I lived in California where they had "Traffic School". These were awesome ways to learn about driving, government, police, etc. I will always be grateful. One teacher carried a dog-eared copy of the Constitution and Bill of Rights, and he would ask the class (e.g.), "Why does the officer have to show up in court?" and the class in unison would respond, "BECAUSE IT'S IN THE CONSTITUTION....". He also showed how, given time and some persistence, one never has to get a ticket on his/her driving record. You just keep appealing. Why? BECAUSE IT'S IN THE CONSTITUTION". Ultimately the court will give you community service, traffic school or whatever, and no fine or record.

My website has an enormous Google rating because I have a free downloadable PDF called "How I beat a Lidar Speeding Ticket". Just Google it.

Brian Gulino

There's all kinds of "impedance tests" as you call it, relating to kids. Want your kid have a well-rounded athletic experience? Coach his Little League team and attend all his games. Play a musical instrument? You better be able to pay for music lessons and have the time to drive to the lessons.

Many activities which, in my childhood, were simply part of growing up, are only available to children whose parents have the time and money to contribute.


And sorry for the messy typos... On my way to some iPad typing lessons now...

Larry Grant

Bureaucratic government requires dependency. Infantilization for longer and longer periods provides it.

Big Don

In today's bad economy, folks can't as readily afford for their kids to drive (cars, gas, *INSURANCE*). "Sorry, kid, you can drive when *YOU* can pay all the costs..."


There are several similar restrictions in Canadian provinces, and it always bothers me how the evidence of the effectiveness of these programs are ignored. In a few cases, even more restrictions have been added after the first set failed to lower accident rates. This seems to me to be the opposite of a rational response.