Just a quick note about the lack of context in your average news story containing social science, and the most basic at that. Today’s Observer has a story about the credit crunch and driving lessons: apparently the tightening of mum’s purse means 17-year-olds aren’t getting driving lessons for their birthdays.
Figures from the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency show that there were 52,000 fewer applications for provisional driving licences this year compared with the same period last year – an 8 per cent fall.
It is the first time this decade that the number of people learning to drive has fallen. From 2000 until the end of 2007, the number of applications rose year on year by an average of 3 per cent. But thousands of families looking to reduce non-essential spending are no longer willing to pay for lessons – the average cost of learning to drive is now £1,500.
The AA said the number of people taking lessons at its driving schools mirrored the DVLA statistics. ‘We think people might be reaching 17 and thinking about the rising cost of fuel and insurance and deciding to wait,’ said AA spokesman Ian Crowder. Both the number of people taking tests and the percentage passing first time had fallen, he added.
I’m sure that the lack of money is likely to have some effect, but they don’t have any concrete evidence of decision making processes. It could also be because teenagers are now more likely to go to university, so won’t be working, won’t have money, and won’t need to commute. It could be because the cost of fuel makes driving lessons more expensive: perhaps if instructors absorbed some of their higher costs, then demand would increase.
More obviously, though, and certainly with a cast-iron cause and effect, a large part of this historical change is because of the change in numbers of 17-year-olds. This is data from statistics.gov.uk showing the number of 17-year-olds at the middle of each year:
Between 2000 and 2007 the population of 17-year-olds increased by an average of 2% a year, explaining for most of the increase in applications. The number of 17-year-olds becoming 17 from July 2008 to June 2009 (those who will be 17 on 1 July 2009) is 2% less than the year before, so the number applications would be falling even if teenagers continued to apply at the same rate. Indeed, it looks like it’s going to get worse for driving instructors, even if fuel prices fall.