NMA Article: Why Are Fewer Teenagers Getting Their Driverís Licenses?
By Jim Baxter, NMA President
There have been some articles published recently that mention a drop in the number of teenagers getting their drivers license. Here’s an excerpt from one such article:
From 2004 to 2008, the number of licenses issued to minors fell by about nine percent, from 65,243 to 58,994.
During the same period, the number of 15 to 19 year olds in the state grew by about 14 percent, from 293,076 to 333,246, according to an estimate from the U.S. Census Bureau.
So, why is this happening?
First, let’s look at the reasons why young people have traditionally hungered for a drivers license:
Freedom, independence, status, social connection, economic need, and/or a simple fascination with operating mechanical things. Further, driving was considered a part of the transformation from adolescent to adulthood.
Automobiles were status symbols and they were viewed, generally, in a positive light.
Just how free or independent does a young person feel when the only way they can legally drive is with mom or dad also in the car? How much independence is being expressed when in addition to having a parent in the car you are only allowed to drive during certain hours and only when you can be accompanied by an adult? Or, as is the case in New Jersey, where a scarlet letter sticker must be affixed to the license plate of a vehicle driven by a young teenager — an invitation to be stopped by the police on a whim?
Doesn’t make me feel particularly free and independent.
Economics play multiple roles. Thanks to child labor laws, and minimum wage laws young people have very limited options for finding paying jobs that would support owning a car. Add on astronomical mandatory insurance costs and low income families can’t even afford to add a young driver to their policy (if they have one). The current recession exacerbates this kind of problem.
For forty plus years the safety establishment has spent billions to convince society that motor vehicles are death machines and in particular responsible for wholesale slaughter of teenagers. What ethical parent, especially the modern “helicopter parent”, would want to expose their child to this kind of risk?
Let us not forget a similar 40 year campaign that has succeeded in casting motor vehicles in the role of pillagers of the environment and the cause of social disintegration. It is our use of automobiles and trucks that has us in two wars, ruined the Gulf of Mexico, and is causing an epidemic of obesity, or so we are told on a daily basis. Why would an impressionable young person raised on saving whales, bottle deposits, and participating in school pizza sales for helping poor people in Zambia aspire to driving a symbol of all that is wrong in the world?
Our country and our world becomes increasingly more urbanized. Kids in rural areas all drive. Many kids in urban areas do not feel nearly as constrained by not being able to drive. I won’t belabor the reasons as I think they are fairly obvious.
Cars, and driving, facilitate social connection. We meet with friends. We travel together. This has been even more important for young people in the past.
However, in recent years our socializing has also gravitated to the electronic world. This is especially true in the world of young people.
They are constantly connected to those they want to be connected with — even if the feeling isn’t mutual. Engaging in “real” life, things like driving an automobile, are not so necessary when you can vicariously engage in life through a computer or iPad. Instead of sitting in the front seat of your car with a buddy and chit-chatting about the world going by, you can sit by your PC and visit with friends from six different states and two countries and send YouTube videos back and forth to each other.
Hey, who needs to put up with the hassle and expense of driving, and for what, so your passenger mother can whine about your poor grades in school? Why Are Fewer Teenagers Getting Their Driver’s Licenses?
Further Reading: © 2009 NMA