How long has the driving age been 16?

My great-grandfather was telling a story the other day about driving across the state when he was only 13. I tried to tell him that wasn’t possible because you have to be 16 to drive, but he said it wasn’t always that way. When did the legal driving age become 16?

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Answer provided by
Sarah Gray
Answered on Apr 15, 2022
It makes sense to wonder how long the driving age has been 16 when someone tells you a story about driving hundreds of miles at age 13. But your great-grandfather is probably telling the truth. The driving age has been 16 in most states since the 1940s.
In 1926, the Second National Conference for Street Highway Safety issued the Uniform Vehicle Code recommending that states adopt a minimum driving age.
By the 1940s, most states had adopted 16 as the minimum age to obtain an unrestricted license, with an increasing number requiring that drivers follow a “graduated licensing program” with three steps that begin at age 15-16 and culminate in an unrestricted license at 18:
  • Learner’s permit: Allows driving with a parent or other fully-licensed driver
  • Restricted license: Allows driving during specific times and under specific regulations
  • Unrestricted license: Allows driving anytime
Though states vary on their requirements for licensing, there’s one thing almost all can agree on—drivers need to have car insurance to drive legally.
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