By John Bowman, NMA Communications DirectorGetting a driver’s license used to be viewed as a rite of passage, a sign of maturity. So, why has this golden ticket to independence and happiness lost its luster with so many young people? The facts are alarming: 30 years ago only 20 percent of Americans ages 17-19 didn’t bother to get a driver’s license. Today, that figure has doubled to 40 percent, according to a new study from the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute. The report is the latest in a series documenting the decline in the number of teens getting their licenses. The study’s authors suggested that rather than engaging in traditional forms of socializing, young people are content to stay in touch virtually via texting, email, social media, etc. As a result, they’re less motivated to actually leave the house and interact face to face. Another study from the Frontier Group noted that vehicle miles traveled by young people (16-34-year-olds) dropped 23 percent from 2001-2009. In addition to the draw of social networking, the study’s authors posited a host of other reasons for the downturn:
- Young people are consciously choosing mass transit and alternative transportation
- Economic realities have made it harder for young people to acquire or operate a vehicle
- The tighter restrictions of Graduated Driver’s License (GDL) programs are deterring young people from getting their licenses (see a previous discussion of this)
It would seem that more and more young people regard learning to drive as a chore, something to be put off or forsaken altogether. Why bother to get a license when you plan to stay at home watching YouTube videos and updating your Facebook status?But learning to drive is about more than just getting from place to place. It’s about assuming personal responsibility, gaining confidence and ultimately becoming self-reliant. Even if young people don’t plan to rely on cars for primary transportation, knowing how to drive could still come in handy, especially in an emergency. And when those non-drivers become parents themselves, their kids will be relying on them for transportation. Speaking of parents, it’s up to them to teach their kids basic life skills, and learning to drive should be at the top of the list. But that also places a burden on the parent. Road time with junior is time consuming and nerve wracking (I’m going through it right now with my 15-year-old daughter). But it’s also an opportunity to impart some parental wisdom to a young mind. If mom and dad aren’t up to the challenge, the kid won’t be either. Driving shouldn’t become a lost art. It fosters confidence and independence, which in turn benefit society. Plus it’s a lot of fun, if done correctly. We used to lament the fact that fewer people were learning to drive manual transmissions. What if we end up yearning for the days when people knew how to drive, period? Some may say what’s the use? Cars will drive themselves before you know it (they already are, actually). All the more reason to teach our kids now so they can experience the simple joys of driving and maybe learn a life lesson along the way.