Most states require that a person be at least 16 years old to drive a motor vehicle under certain conditions, while the minimum age to receive a full license is typically 18. However, it took several decades during the early 20th century for 16 to emerge as the minimum licensing age for most states. Today, there is widespread debate about raising the minimum age to reduce teen driving fatalities.
As the automobile became more mainstream in the 1920s, states generally set arbitrary age restrictions by which a person could be licensed to drive, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. In 1921, Connecticut was the first state to allow a person 16 or older to drive, accompanied by someone with a license. Between 1919 and 1937, 15 states enacted minimum age requirements, with nine allowing 16-year-olds to obtain licenses. By the 1940s, most states had approved 16 as the minimum age.
By the 1980s, most states had introduced laws allowing "graduated licensing." This typically means that a 16-year-old can take a driver's license test and be allowed to drive, though not with teen passengers, usually with parental supervision and often not at night.
Many European countries have stricter age requirements than the U.S. Usually, European nations don't allow teenagers to receive their "leaner permits," or provisional licenses, until they are 17 or 18 years old.