WASHINGTON — Since the end of World War II, getting a driver’s license has been a rite of passage for teens, but that’s less and less the case. The share of people in their teens, 20s and 30s with driver’s licenses has dropped significantly over the past three decades, not only the United States, but also in some other wealthy nations with a high proportion of Internet users, transportation researchers have found.
One possible explanation: Virtual contact through the Internet and other electronic means is reducing the need for face-to-face visits among young people, researchers say.
From 1983 to 2008, the share of 16- to 39-year-olds with driver’s licenses declined markedly, with the greatest decreases among drivers in their late teens and early 20s, according to a study at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute in Ann Arbor. About 69 percent of 17-year-olds had a driver’s license in 1983. By 2008, that had dropped to 50 percent. Among Americans ages 20 to 24 in 1983, nearly 92 percent had driver’s licenses. Twenty-five years later, it was 82 percent.
The older the age group, the less dramatic the declines, the Michigan study found. But even among 35- to 39-year-olds, there was a 3.2 percent decline in the share of licensed drivers.
More recent data from the Federal Highway Administration indicates the trend has continued, according to a report released Thursday by the Frontier Group, an environmental organization, and the consumer-oriented U.S. PIRG Education Fund. The share of 20- to 34-year-olds without a driver’s license decreased from 89.6 percent in 2000 to 84.3 percent in 2010, the report said.
Michael Sivak, co-author of the Michigan studies, also confirmed the continuing decline.
In countries where “more people use the Internet, there is a lower proportion of drivers,” Sivak said.
Investigators fault ‘Three Cups of Tea’ author
HELENA, Mont. — “Three Cups of Tea” author Greg Mortenson will remain the face of the charity he co-founded, despite his having to repay $1 million after an investigative report released Thursday concluded he mismanaged the organization and misspent its money.
Central Asia Institute Interim Executive Director Anne Beyersdorfer said Mortenson will continue to draw a salary from the charity. But it won’t be as executive director and he is barred from being a voting member of the board of directors as long as he is still employed by the organization.
The mountaineer and humanitarian will continue to represent the organization in speaking engagements and work to build relationships in Pakistan and Afghanistan, where the charity builds schools and promotes education, she said.
A yearlong investigation by the Montana attorney general, who oversees charity organizations operating in the state, found Mortenson exerted tremendous control over the charity as tens of millions in donations poured in after the 2006 release of “Three Cups of Tea.”
Mortenson’s best-seller and a follow-up book, “Stones Into Schools,” came under scrutiny last year when reports by “60 Minutes” and author Jon Krakauer alleged the CAI co-founder fabricated parts of both and that he benefited financially from the charity.
Ill. top court revives suit on assault weapon ban
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — The Illinois Supreme Court says a legal challenge to an assault weapons ban in the Chicago area can proceed even after two lower courts dismissed the case.
The 1993 Cook County ban on the sale or possession of assault weapons has been challenged by three residents who say they need the prohibited weapons for hunting, target shooting and personal protection.
The U.S. Supreme Court last year struck down a Chicago ordinance that essentially banned handguns, saying the Second Amendment establishes a fundamental right to possess a handgun for self-defense.
In Thursday’s unanimous ruling, Illinois’ top court says a lower court should hear evidence on whether assault weapons get the same Second Amendment protection.
A trial and state appeals court earlier ruled the ban constitutional.
Coast Guard fires on Japanese ghost ship
OVER THE GULF OF ALASKA — The U.S. Coast Guard unleashed cannon fire Thursday at a Japanese vessel set adrift by last year’s tsunami, stopping the ship’s long, lonely voyage across the Pacific Ocean.
A Coast Guard cutter fired on the abandoned 164-foot Ryou-Un Maru in the waters of the Gulf of Alaska and more than 150 miles from land, spokesman Paul Webb said. He said it could take at least an hour to sink it.
Soon after they started firing, the ship burst into flames, began to take on water and list, Chief The ship has no lights or communications system and has a tank that could carry more than 2,000 gallons of diesel fuel. The ship had been destined for scrapping when the Japan earthquake struck, so there is no cargo on board, according to Webb. He said he doesn’t know who owns the Ryou-Un Maru, which has been traveling about 1 mile per hour in the past days.
With peace deadline nearing, Syria sends helicopters against rebels
BEIRUT — The Syrian military stepped up its campaign against anti-government rebels Thursday as a deadline for the government to implement a U.N.-sponsored peace plan approached, while the country’s fractured opposition took a step toward unity with representatives of Syria’s Kurdish minority.
In the last two days, President Bashar Assad’s troops have increased their use of helicopter gunships in rebel areas near Aleppo, the country’s largest city, and outside the city of Idlib in the country’s restive north, according to reports.
In Geneva, a spokesman for Kofi Annan, the United Nations’ special representative to Syria, said the Syrian government had told Annan’s office that troops and armor had been removed from three key cities Thursday: Idlib, Zabadani and the southern city of Daraa.
Shelling reportedly also continued in Homs, a central city of more than 1 million near the Lebanese border that has seen more than two months of nonstop fighting.
Another radioactive water leak reported at Japanese nuclear plant
TOKYO — Tokyo Electric Power Co. said Thursday that as much as 12 tons of radioactive water leaked from a pipe at its crippled Fukushima nuclear station, the second such incident in 11 days at the same pipeline, raising further doubts about the stability of the plant.
Part of the water may have poured into the sea through a drainage ditch, Osamu Yokokura, a spokesman for the utility, said by phone. The company known as TEPCO stopped the leak from a pipe connecting a desalination unit and a tank Thursday, he said.
TEPCO has about 100,000 tons of highly radioactive water accumulated in basements at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear station nearly 13 months after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami caused meltdowns and the worst radiation leaks since Chernobyl in 1986.