Licensed drivers decline: Fewer have licenses in South Florida
Jan 30, 2012
The following article was published in the South Florida Sun Sentinel on January 30, 2012:
Fewer people getting drivers licenses in South Florida
By Angela Streeter
Driving seems essential in car-dependent South Florida. But for an increasing number of people, maybe it isn’t so necessary. Since 2009, the number of licensed drivers in South Florida, as well as the whole state, has steadily declined.
Experts say there could be a number of reasons: the slow economy, the changing habits of teenagers and young adults and changes in Florida’s renewal process. In Broward County, the number of licensed drivers fell from 1,422,080 in January 2008 to 1,378,032 this month, according to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. That brings the county close to a 2001 level, when it had 1,399,635 licensed drivers.
In Palm Beach County, the number of licensed drivers declined from 1,044,020 to 1,017,146 over the same four years, even fewer than its 1,025,967 in 2004.
Statewide, there were 15.5 million licensed drivers in 2008 and 15.3 million this year. Historically, the number of licensed drivers statewide has increased 1 percent to 2 percent annually.
Recent declines could be the result of hard times, said Steve Polzin, a director at the University of South Florida’s Center for Urban Transportation Research.
“Certainly, the economy is a huge contributor,” he said. “While we hear a lot about the homeowners who can’t make payments and go into foreclosure, we don’t hear as much about the number of folks who can’t keep up car payments.”
Or maybe an old car needs a major repair that the owner can’t afford. Those people may be less likely to maintain their licenses, Polzin said.
Also, the number of households without cars, in Florida and nationally, is starting to increase after decades of decline, Polzin said.
Vehicle registrations in Florida are down from 14.3 million in fiscal year 2008-2009 to 12.7 million in fiscal year 2010-2011.
The struggling economy is having a significant impact on young people, who are responsible for most of the decrease in licensed drivers, according to state statistics.
They may not be able to afford a car because of both the initial expense and ongoing costs such as insurance, said Michael Sivak, research professor at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute.
Sivak recently co-wrote a study that showed people younger than 45 were less likely to have driver’s licenses than they were 25 years ago.
Teenagers showed the most dramatic reduction in licensed drivers. With social media, texting and other technology, teenagers aren’t in a hurry to get a license in order to hang out with their friends.
“Virtual contact through electronic means reduces the need for actual contact among young people,” Sivak wrote in an email. “Furthermore, some young people feel that driving interferes with texting.”
Sivak also suspects the drop in young licensed drivers can be traced to more young people migrating to urban cores and using public transportation.
But Gloria Katz, of Broward County’s Smart Growth Partnership doubts that trend is happening in suburban-sprawl South Florida.
“I think that is something we would like to see,” she said. “In South Florida, we don’t have enough great public transportation to make that possible. It’s not an easy commute. We would have to see more urban areas where you don’t need a car.”
As the number of licensed drivers drops, more people are driving without a license.
Tickets written for driving with an expired license increased 8 percent statewide between 2009 and 2010, 21 percent in Broward County and 7 percent in Palm Beach County.
Moreover, in recent years it has become increasingly difficult, and expensive, for Floridians to renew their licenses.
In 2009, the state increased the cost of license renewals from $20 to $48.
In 2010, Florida began requiring more documentation for renewals as part of the federal government’s Real ID Act. In the past, drivers had to provide only an old license to get a new one.