When I was a teenager, I and all the other teens I knew waited with bated breath for our 16th birthday. That’s the day our parents let us skip school, took us to the local DMV and let us drive home with a brand-new driver’s license. From that day on our lives revolved around our cars. We’d drive to school, drive to friends’ houses, drive to movies on Friday nights and drive just for the sake of getting out to drive.
We watched “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” and lived vicariously through his “sick day” and his joyride in a Ferrari GT California.
Driving wasn’t just a transportation tool for us, it defined us. It gave us freedom and our first real taste of adulthood.
Many of today’s teens aren’t experiencing that, which is too bad. But it’s also a blessing.
If “Ferris Bueller” were remade today, there’s a good chance he’d spend his day on Facebook instead of in the Ferrari.
Instead of needing cars to see and interact with friends, teens can log onto gaming or social networking sites and get all the interaction they crave while never leaving their bedrooms.
In fact, recent research says almost half of today’s 18-to-24-year-olds would choose Internet access over owning a car. Among baby boomers only 15 percent would take a keyboard over an ignition key.
Last year only 4% of people 19 and under had driver’s licenses, the lowest percentage since 1978. There’s speculation that the decline is due in large part to tougher licensing tests and graduated licenses requiring drivers under 16 to be accompanied by a licensed driver 21 or older. The effect of social networks, high gas prices and the poor job market can’t be dismissed, either. Driving costs a lot more now than it did when I was 16!
While the love affair between teens and cars may be ending, that’s not entirely bad. If teens stay alone in their homes, they won’t use cars to get into trouble. Their parents can rest easy knowing their kids are spending less time out on the roads at night. That means fewer accidents and less chance of the risky behavior that often happens when teens find themselves alone on dark and lonely stretches of road.
Kids are living their lives online now, and cars are an extra burden many just aren’t interested in. What that’ll do to future car sales as these kids grow into adults will be interesting to watch.
Will today’s teens mature into adults who rediscover a passion for cars, or will they use them only as appliances to move between destinations?