Jones, who lives in downtown Baltimore, also said much of what she wanted and needed as a student at Western High School was accessible to her through public transportation. Or she could get a ride from her mother or walk.

"I have a lot of friends who got their licenses at 17, 18, 19," she said. "It was people who live downtown."

Some traffic safety experts have raised concerns that teens who delay seeking driver's licenses miss out on stricter "graduated driver licensing" or GDL requirements that states mandate for teenagers under 18.

"There's a segment of this generation missing opportunities to learn under the safeguards that GDL provides," said Averella.

In Maryland, laws are stricter. Anyone seeking a license for the first time must pass the test to earn a learner's permit and then — after nine months and 60 hours on the road — he or she receives a provisional license. That license must be held for 18 months before a permanent license can be issued, state officials said. Moving violations start the waiting periods anew. However, according to officials, those 25 and older have fewer driving hours to complete.

Testing demands — including the graduated licensing requirement imposed in 1999 — are a factor in the declining number of teens pursuing licenses, said Buel Young, an MVA spokesman. Young specifically mentioned a license requirement enacted through legislation in 2011 that requires new drivers to complete a skills test not only in an enclosed course, but in real traffic.

"It's word of mouth," Young said. "People now know that the test is no longer a closed course, and they are actually taken out, and it makes people think about whether they are actually ready to take the test."

Eric Candia, 16, of Highlandtown said he waited a few months after turning 15 years and 9 months — the minimum age — to seek a learner's permit. "I just didn't get around to it. I was busy at the time," he said.

Grant Rebstock, 16, of Pasadena, also got a late start. He said he and a friend took the learner's permit test before studying or taking driver's education classes, and both failed. He decided to study before trying again.

Rebstock also said he has a friend in his neighborhood who can drive, which diminished the need to get behind the wheel himself. Now that he is working to complete the driving hours needed for a provisional license, he wishes he had started earlier, he said. "I didn't really think about how much time really went into all of it," he said.

Though some public schools connect students with local private instructors, many teens are now left to figure out the process by themselves. Avila, of ABC Driver Education, said many teenagers show up for driver's education without knowing the rules.

"And before they know it, they are 17, 18, 19 before they get a license," he said.

Baltimore Sun reporter Carrie Wells contributed to this article.