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This Is Hard For Me To Believe — Fewer Teens Get Their Drivers Licenses Because Smartphones Serve The Same Function As Cars?


I am very open to being corrected, and I’m looking forward to asking my students  about this, but I think The Los Angeles Times this week has provided a perfect example of mistaking correlation with causation (which makes it a great topic for my TOK class) in their article, Who needs a car? Smartphones are driving teens’ social lives.

It says that since 28% of 16 year-old’s have drivers licenses today compared to nearly 50% thirty years ago, and since there has been a huge rise in teens using smartphones in that period, then the two are directly connected.

Though I’m not interested at this point in paying the $44 required to read the study the Times article is based upon, other reports on the same research seem to suggest that, though the research is solid on the lower percentage of teens getting licenses, it’s more conjecture than hard facts about the reasons behind the decline.

I’d be far more inclined to believe that the recession and increased expenses involved in driving are the primary factors behind the decline.

Let me know what you think, and/or if you have more info on the study….

Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.


  1. Definitely confusing correlation with causation. Might as well compare drop in drivers license rate to changes in milk drinking, just a valid (or invalid, in this case). You’ve seen the excellent correlation/causation cartoon on xkcd? See

  2. Many of my students are driving without licenses. It seems to be a much more acceptable than it was when I was a teen. If I was guessing, it would be between 25 and 50% of the teens driving to school do not have their licenses. I wonder if this is part of the reason why the number has dropped.

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