When I was a teenager I could hardly wait to be 15 1/2 so I could get my learners permit followed by my drivers license at 16. That six month learning period seemed to take forever! And of course I managed to make it even worse by breaking one of my mom’s many car related rules just before my 16th birthday and had to wait an additional two months as punishment. It was her policy that I wasn’t to ride in a car with friends without her knowledge for any reason. I suppose if it had been an emergency situation she may have given in, but she insisted on knowing who would be in the car, where we were going and when we would return. It was a pain in the ass but I complied. Of course the one time I didn’t I got caught!
Yeah I was only a few weeks away from my birthday and that long awaited trip to DMV when an error in judgement did me in. I remember I was standing in the front yard when a buddy of mine pulled up in 56 ford he had just bought that afternoon. He wanted me to go for a ride to check it out but like the good son that I was (most of the time) I said no. But he was persistent sucker and after awhile I finally agreed to take a quick ride around the block with him. It was a totally cool car, real nice ride, but that two minute joy ride cost me two months, for lo and behold when we got back my mom was waiting for me on the porch. I tried to explain and talk my way out of trouble, even my friend joined in but to no avail. I knew the rule, I broke the rule and their were consequences for my actions. no drivers license for an additional 2 months! That was painful. But then my mom always knew how to put the hurt on me without having to actually lay a hand on me. She was good. I always wondered how she knew I had gone for that ride. I long suspected that my younger sister or brother had ratted me out, but you know mom’s, they have a way of knowing things.
I survived my extra wait time and in November of 67 I finally got my license. Back then most teens lived for that moment! My how things change. The other day my wife and I drove past my Azusa HS. There were perhaps 20 cars in the student parking lot. She was quite surprised that there were so few cars. My senior year the parking lot which is designed to hold about 200 cars was full and student’s cars spilled over onto adjacent streets across from the school. Of course there were something like 2200 students then compared to 1400 today. Still you’d think there would be a lot more cars in the parking lot.
The fact is teens just don’t drive like they used to. Since the mid 80’s teen interest in securing their driver’s license has been on a steady decline. Getting a driver’s license or owning a car is no longer important to teens. There are a number of reasons for the decline, higher gasoline prices, higher costs of buying and maintaining a car, and high insurance costs and tougher licensing laws to name a few, but the real culprit here is a change in our teens values and preferences. Teens today would rather spend their time online, on their cell phones texting, tweeting, checking their FB or YouTube, playing games or music or chatting with friends, than behind the wheel of an automobile. Yes the sad fact is that driving has simply lost the status and fascination it once held for teens in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s.
Once upon a time the automobile was a symbol of freedom, of coming of age. Having your license or owning our own car was considered “cool.” Sadly that time has come and gone. Today owning the latest smart phone, tablet or Ipad is what’s cool and more important than having a driver’s license or owning a car. Funny but a recent survey showed that the reason given most often by the majority of young people for not getting their license had nothing to do with cost but simply that they were too busy, didn’t have the time or it was just too much of a hassle. Can you believe that? Too much of a hassle?
These young non drivers are part of a new generation called “Generation Y,” sometimes referred to as “Generation Y Bother.” These are individuals who were born between the early 80’s and the early 2000’s. One very common trait among Y’s is delaying some of the more traditional rites of passage until later into adulthood including moving out of their parent’s homes. Perhaps this is part of the reason why fewer of them are driving. Oh well, the choice is theirs. I suppose there’s nothing wrong with this growing trend. It just seems strange to me since I grew up in the California car culture. On the bright side if this trend in driving continues perhaps our jammed and overcrowded highways will become less congested sooner than later. Guess we’ll have to wait and see.