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Fewer Teen Drivers in California Blamed on Insurance Costs, Training Cuts

September 8, 1992

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Getting to drive is still the dream of California youths, but insurance costs and the loss of free driver training has slashed the number of licensed teen-agers by more than 18 percent in a decade.

Only half of California’s driving age teen-agers have licenses, compared with three of five in 1981. Many are forgoing the age-old rite of passage - learner’s permit at 15 1/2 , with a license to drive at 16.

″It’s a real drag not to drive. You can’t go to the beach or anywhere,″ said 16-year-old Carla Renteria, who attends Garfield High School.

There was an 18.6 percent drop in the number of teen-agers licensed to drive in California from 1981 to 1991 - from more than 1 million in 1981 to 838,408 last year, Department of Motor Vehicles figures show.

While drive-in theaters, drive-through restaurants and cruising the Sunset Strip may be out for many teen-agers, school officials and youngsters say illegal driving may be on the rise.

″Time was when most people didn’t dare drive without a license. Now, when I ask my classes how many kids are driving (without licenses), at least a third of them raise their hands,″ said Don Hastings, a Garfield driver’s education instructor.

″Everybody does it,″ said Cindy Meza, 16, who added that she doesn’t drive.

″You can tell the ones who don’t have licenses by the way they drive - all crazy. And by what they drive - real junk,″ said Maria Tinajero, 16.

A person under 18 who is caught driving without a license can be fined $250 and parents who allow unlicensed teen-agers to drive can be held liable for damages in accidents. Those who are over 18 can be fined $1,000 and jailed for six months.

In 1990, the state stopped funding free behind-the-wheel driver training. By law, public schools must continue to offer classroom driver’s education courses.

″The cuts appear to have caused many youngsters to put off getting their licenses until their 18th birthdays or even later,″ said Rudy Parker, the school district driver’s education supervisor.

Commercial driving schools offer behind-the-wheel training ranging in price from $300 to $600, and some school districts offer programs for about $150. But the cost is too high for many.

″No way my mom will shell out $150 or whatever it costs. I’ll have to let my friends teach me to drive, but I know I’ll just have to wait until I’m 18 to get my license,″ said Miss Tinajero.

Insurance for teen-age drivers also was blamed for the decline.

″I know one woman who found out it would cost $2,100 just to add her 17- year-old to her policy. Not to buy him a car, just to give him the privilege of driving her car once in a while,″ said Steve Krimitz, a DMV analyst.

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